By Laura Lippman
Published by William Morrow
on September 1, 2010
Eliza Benedict cherishes her peaceful, ordinary suburban life with her successful husband and children, thirteen-year-old Iso and eight-year-old Albie. But her tranquillity is shattered when she receives a letter from the last person she ever expects—or wants—to hear from: Walter Bowman. There was your photo, in a magazine. Of course, you are older now. Still, I'd know you anywhere.
In the summer of 1985, when she was fifteen, Eliza was kidnapped by Walter and held hostage for almost six weeks. He had killed at least one girl and Eliza always suspected he had other victims as well. Now on death row in Virginia for the rape and murder of his final victim, Walter seems to be making a heartfelt act of contrition as his execution nears. Though Eliza wants nothing to do with him, she's never forgotten that Walter was most unpredictable when ignored. Desperate to shelter her children from this undisclosed trauma in her past, she cautiously makes contact with Walter. She's always wondered why Walter let her live, and perhaps now he'll tell her—and share the truth about his other victims.
Yet as Walter presses her for more and deeper contact, it becomes clear that he is after something greater than forgiveness. He wants Eliza to remember what really happened that long-ago summer. He wants her to save his life. And Eliza, who has worked hard for her comfortable, cocooned life, will do anything to protect it—even if it means finally facing the events of that horrifying summer and the terrible truth she's kept buried inside.
I have wanted to read this book for quite some time, but it was a bit too pricey for me. Luckily it was on sale at the Kobo store a couple of days ago, so I bought it and read it right away!
Oh boy. This book was so good. I’ve never read anything by Laura Lippman, but I’ll be adding some of her other books to my TBR list now!
Eliza, who was Elizabeth Lerner when she was 15, was kidnapped by Walter and held hostage for about 40 days. Over that time, she learns that he has killed at least one other girl, and he then kidnaps and kills another before Elizabeth is rescued.
The story’s third-person narrative jumps around, from Eliza’s present day life, to her past, Walter’s past and present, and the present day life of the mother of Walther’s last victim, among others. I think that it can be difficult to balance multiple perspectives, but in this novel, it is done very well, and it really sheds some light on the actions and motivations of each character.
Walter is on death row, with his execution approaching quickly. Eliza has made a life for herself with her husband and children, with only her husband, parents, and sister knowing that she is Elizabeth Lerner. Her children don’t know, and she does not have any close friends to tell. She seems happy in her suburban life, but insulated as well. She didn’t seem to have any friends, outside of her husband. I think it was probably a self-preservation thing, as we learn about the only time Eliza tried to confide the events of that summer to a friend, and the unfortunate outcome of that confidence.
It is a major shock to Eliza when she receives a letter from Walter, although she realizes that he has had someone else write and mail it for him. Soon she is accosted by the woman who wrote the letter on Walter’s behalf, who has been communicating with him for some time, informing Eliza that Walter wishes to speak with her. After consulting with her husband, Peter, Eliza goes to great lengths to arrange for Walter to call, without revealing anything to her children. Soon these calls turn into a request for Eliza to come and meet Walter, face to face.
At the same time, Eliza’s teenage daughter is getting into trouble at home and school. The contrasts and comparisons of Eliza’s daughter and her own teenage self are interesting, and while Eliza had a lot of freedom as a teenager, she now tries to keep her own children safe without revealing to them the reasons behind her fears.
I enjoyed this book a lot. The chapters that show what happened when Eliza was kidnapped were very interesting. Walter terrified her enough when she was taken that she knew she had to do what he said in order to stay alive. This led to a strange sort of existence, almost co-dependence, which I found fascinating.
The chapters that focused on Eliza’s family were interesting to me as well. There was a clear divide between the ‘before’, when Eliza lived at home with her parents and older sister, and the ‘after’, when she returned home, the family moved, and she changed her name. Her sister’s behaviour, seemingly based on jealousy and competitiveness, was well represented, albeit briefly. Present day Eliza and her sister seem to have a fairly good relationship, but I was intrigued at how what happened to Eliza was never explicitly discussed by her family, despite its effect their lives afterwards.
The mother of Holly, Walter’s last victim, was very different from the other characters in the novel. She blamed Eliza for what happened to her daughter, and resented that her daughter was dead while Eliza lived. It was for the murder of her daughter that Walter has been sentenced to death, and the lead up to his execution prompts her to track down and get in touch with Eliza. Their meeting was very interesting. I could sympathize with her character, although I did not necessarily agree with her. I like that the author included this character because it rounded out the novel’s demonstration of the impact of Walter’s crimes. Although Eliza survived and the story was about her, she never forgot that Walter had other victims who did not survive.
I also enjoyed reading about the various legal aspects of the novel, from Eliza’s flashbacks of the trial and preparation meetings with the prosecutor, to the various legal technicalities that had kept Walter on death row for over 20 years. So many elements were factored into this novel but they all worked together very well to make a complete story.
I thought the novel’s climax was very well done. I really like Eliza’s character, and she grew over the course of the novel, from someone who let life happen to her, to making her own decisions and taking charge. Walter was not a character I could sympathize with, but it was fascinating to read his perspective on things and try to get some insight into what made him do the things he did, and if he had truly changed.
I am opposed to the death penalty, but this novel does not preach a pro or con perspective. By telling each character’s story, the reader is presented with varying opinions coloured by the character’s own experiences. It was a good way to make me think about my own ideas on the subject without being too heavy-handed.
Overall, this book was well-written, suspenseful at times, and a real page turner. I definitely recommend it!