Three former best friends are discovered shot in a locked girls' restroom at a suburban Baltimore high school--one is dead, one is critically injured from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the third is clearly lying.
The trouble with writing the Tess Monaghan mysteries is that fans want more, more, more. Lippman scored big with her 2003 stand-alone, Every Secret Thing, but this one doesn't pack the same punch. Here's Baltimore-outlying Glendale, anyway. Here are two terrific cops: Sgt. Harold Lenhardt, the family man, and his partner, Kevin Infante, who dates babes. But where's a woman to inspire and worry us, as Tess does Lippman's latest teems with female characters, but none whose POV elicits strong emotion. Since third grade, three girls have been best friends: rich, pretty Kat Hartigan, athletic Josie Patel and dramatic Perri Kahn. Now high school seniors, they've come to a gruesome end in the girls' bathroom. Kat is dead. Perri, the presumptive shooter, is missing half her face. Josie has a bullet in her left foot. She alone can talk, and it's clear to Lenhardt that she's lying. Lippman zigzags her way to the moment of truth. Some of the scenes are wonderfully well told, and Lippman, as always, neatly skewers people in power (the school principal tells a 911 dispatcher, "I wouldn't characterize it so much as a school shooting... but as a shooting at the school"). But this novel doesn't so much rise above genre as make one miss it. Agent, Vicky Bijur. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 30, 2006
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Excerpt from To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman
People would want to know what she was thinking, the night before. They always do, or think they do -- but in her case they would have been disappointed. Because by the night before, the thinking was long over and she was preoccupied mainly with logistics. Planning, preparing, packing. Finding her old knapsack, an orange-and-black JanSport she hadn't used for months, not since Christmastime.
Knapsacks had gone out of fashion that spring at Glendale High School, at least among the stylish girls. The divas, as they were known -- they had bestowed the name on themselves and considered it laudatory -- had taken to carrying plastic totes in bright primary colors, see-through and flimsy. Even the namebrand versions, the ones that cost upwards of a hundred dollars, buckled under the weight the divas expected them to carry. But then it's a myth that more expensive things are better made -- or so her father always said, whenever she expressed a desire for something trendy. At the mall she had seen diva mothers storm into Nordstrom or Hecht Co., proclaiming the totes defective. "What was she using it for?" skeptical salesladies inquired, examining the torn and stretched-out handles beneath the fluorescent lights. "The usual," lied the mothers. "Girl stuff."
In the end the salesladies didn't care if the mothers stretched the truth as far as those rubbery handles, because they always left with even more merchandise -- not only a replacement tote or two but those hideous Louis Vuitton billfolds that were so unfathomably popular that spring, maybe a small cosmetic bag in the same distinctive-tacky pattern. They needed cosmetic bags because the totes had another design flaw. The not-quite-opaque plastic allowed the world to see whatever one carried. Forget trying to bring Tampax to school, or even a hairbrush. (She had always considered hairbrushes one of the more horrible secrets that regular purses kept -- oily, matted with hair, shedding those strange little scales.) Yet perhaps that was the very source of the totes' cachet: To use one, you had to pretend you had no secrets, that your life was an open book -- or, more correctly, a seethrough purse. You couldn't put anything in those totes that you didn't want other people to glimpse.
Especially a gun, no matter how small. Even a gun wrapped in a scarf, as hers would be.
The problem was that she, too, had abandoned her knapsack earlier that school year, although she was not one to follow the trends, quite the opposite. She had different reasons for retiring her trusty JanSport. I am putting away childish things, she told herself in November, having been reminded of that Bible verse while rereading a favorite childhood novel. Her mother had gotten a canvas bag at Barnes & Noble, one with Emily Dickinson's face, and she had co-opted it for a joke, just to test how ignorant everyone was. ("Is that someone you know?" "Is that you?" "A relative?") She hadn't planned to use it every day, but then her parents began to nag, said she was going to throw her spine out of alignment or damage the nerves in her shoulder. Then she had to keep using it, if only to prove to them that it was her spine, her nerves, her life.
Except the Emily Dickinson bag was forever falling over, scattering its contents. She couldn't afford such accidents or missteps, not on the day she took her gun to school.