Every Secret Thing
Laura Lippman
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Buy *Every Secret Thing* online

Every Secret Thing
Laura Lippman
432 pages
September 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Murder becomes a less exclusive crime with each passing year. Once it was almost solely the territory of hardened criminals, with only the occasional civilian lapsing into a crime of passion. But it seems that fewer and fewer people are exempt from murderous thoughts these days.

Perhaps the most shocking crimes are those committed by children. Do children who kill -- even those who rigorously plan their attacks -- really understand what they're doing when they take a life?

That question is at the core of Laura Lippman's fine mystery Every Secret Thing. The story begins with two little girls -- shy, overweight Alice Manning and rebellious, trashy Ronnie Fuller -- getting kicked out of a birthday party. While walking home, the girls find a baby left alone in a stroller on the sidewalk and, figuring she's been abandoned, decide to take care of the infant. A few days later, the baby is found suffocated. The girls are arrested, but no clear version of the story emerges. Both are locked up in juvenile detention centers until their 18th birthdays.

After their release, another baby goes missing and fingers begin to point to the two girls. Lippman cleverly shifts focus throughout the novel, from Alice to Ronnie to Alice's mother to the detective who found that first baby years ago to Alice's lawyer and to the mother of the first baby, still bitter that her child's killers weren't locked up for life. The story's structure keeps the true version of the original murder from emerging until the very end, making it both shocking, yet strangely inevitable.

Without revealing too much, Lippman clearly believes that children are just as capable of calculation and manipulation as anyone else. The only thing that's different about their crimes, she argues, may be the way the rest of the world views them.

Every Secret Thing also makes a number of pointed claims about race, class and money. These are mostly illustrated through the character of Cynthia Barnes, the mother of the original baby. Cynthia is black, the daughter of a respected black judge and living a financially comfortable life with her husband and new child. Though her life was deeply affected by the loss of her first child, she's slightly reluctant to visit the mother of the latest missing child. Her hesitation, the book claims, is that she's somewhat put off by the woman, a poor, low-class white woman with a racially mixed child, whom she pities but can't entirely sympathize with.

The complexity of that character is indicative of the whole tone of the book -- nothing is clear cut, Lippman argues. There are no easy answers, not about crime or love or parenting, or even about the right way to behave. The result is an intelligent book that thrills its audience without patronizing, which isn't an easy feat.

© 2003 by Amanda Cuda for Curled Up With a Good Book

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