Sunburn (Lippman)

Laura Lippman, 2018
304 pp.

Laura Lippman returns with a superb novel of psychological suspense about a pair of lovers with the best intentions and the worst luck: two people locked in a passionate yet uncompromising game of cat and mouse. But instead of rules, this game has dark secrets, forbidden desires, inevitable betrayals—and cold-blooded murder.

One is playing a long game. But which one?

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through. Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him.

Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets.

Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?

Something—or someone—has to give. Which one will it be?

Inspired by James M. Cain’s masterpieces The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce, Sunburn is a tantalizing modern noir from the incomparable Laura Lippman. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 31, 1959
Where—Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Education—B.S., Northwestern University
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in Baltimore, Maryland

Lippman was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the daughter of Theo Lippman Jr., a well known and respected writer at the Baltimore Sun, and Madeline Lippman, a retired school librarian for the Baltimore City Public School System. She attended high school in Columbia, Maryland, where she was the captain of the Wilde Lake High School It's Academic team.

Lippman is a former reporter for the (now defunct) San Antonio Light and the Baltimore Sun. She is best known for writing a series of novels set in Baltimore and featuring Tess Monaghan, a reporter (like Lippman herself) turned private investigator.

Lippman's works have won the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Nero, Gumshoe and Shamus awards. Her 2007 release, What the Dead Know, was the first of her books to make the New York Times bestseller list, and was shortlisted for the Crime Writer's Association Dagger Award. In addition to the Tess Monaghan novels, Lippman wrote 2003's Every Secret Thing, which has been optioned for the movies by Academy Award–winning actor Frances McDormand.

Lippman lives in the South Baltimore neighborhood of Federal Hill and frequently writes in the neighborhood coffee shop Spoons. In addition to writing, she teaches at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. In January, 2007, she taught at the 3rd Annual Writers in Paradise at Eckerd College.

Lippman is married to David Simon, another former Baltimore Sun reporter, and creator and an executive producer of the HBO series The Wire. The character Bunk is shown to be reading one of her books in episode eight of the first season of The Wire. She appeared in a scene of the first episode of the last season of The Wire as a reporter working in the Baltimore Sun newsroom.

2015 Anthony Award-Best Novel (After I'm Gone)
2008 Anthony Award-Best Novel (What the Dead Know)
2008 Anthony Award-Best Short Story ("Hardly Knew Her")
2008 Barry Award-Best Novel (What the Dead Know)
2008 Macavity Award-Best Mystery (What the Dead Know)
2007 Anthony Award-Best Novel (No Good Deeds)
2007 Quill Award-Mystery (What the Dead Know)
2006 Gumshow Award-Best Novel (To the Power of the Three)
2004 Barry Award-Best Novel (Every Secret Thing)
2001 Nero Award (Sugar House)
2000 Anthony Award-Best Paperback Original (In Big Trouble)
2000 Shamus Award-Best Paperback Original (In Big Trouble)
1999 Anthony Award-Best Paperback Original (Butchers Hill)
1998 Agatha Award-Best Novel (Butchers Hill)
1998 Edgar Award-Best Paperback Original (Charm City)
1998 Shamus Award-Best Paperback Original (Charm City)
(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews

Laura Lippman's Sunburn may be set in 1995, before Google searches made it a whole lot harder to vanish and start afresh elsewhere, but it takes its inspiration…from '40s noir: Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings TwiceSunburn, though cool and twisty, has more heart than expected. It's generous in other ways, too. The particular atmosphere of unlovely Belleville is deftly conveyed…People move in and out of the narrative with their own baggage and preoccupations. What they choose to tell us is very subjective and not always directly relevant, and this clamor of voices gives the novel satisfying depth and texture. There's a sense here that we're brushing up against many lives, many versions of the truth.
Harriet Lane - New York Times Book Review

I feel like it creates a whole new category, which I’m thinking of as "femme noir."… She’s taken this traditional noir structure of a man sweeping in to save a woman who then turns around and eats his heart out—she’s turned that notion on its head.
Wall Street Journal

The ingenious plot evolves into myriad twists that are as believable as they are surprising.… Sunburn delivers one of the year’s most intriguing mysteries.
Associated Press Staff

A masterful mix from a total pro.

(Starred review) [S]corching. Adam’s part in her potential downfall—comes to a boiling point. This is Lippman at her observant, fiercest best, a force to be reckoned with in crime fiction.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) Lippman's complicated femme fatale heroine and conflicted hero are more layered than one would expect from noir protagonists…. With an economy of words, she creates three-dimensional characters.… [A] tasty feast of a novel. —Liz French
Library Journal

(Starred review) Ingeniously constructed and extremely suspenseful, the novel keeps us guessing right up until its final moments. Lippman is a popular and dependable writer, and this homage to classic noir showcases a writer at the height of her powers.

(Starred review) Lippman’s version of the sexy stranger passing through town.… [Her] trademark is populating a whodunit with characters so believably complicated they don’t need the mystery to carry the book.… Plotty, page-turning pleasure plus.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers GENERIC MYSTERY QUESTIONS to start a discussion for Sunburn … then take off on your own:

Mystery / Crime / Suspense Thrillers

1. Talk about the characters, both good and bad. Describe their personalities and motivations. Are they fully developed and emotionally complex? Or are they flat, one-dimensional heroes and villains?

2. What do you know...and when do you know it? At what point in the book do you begin to piece together what happened?

3. Good crime writers embed hidden clues in plain sight, slipping them in casually, almost in passing. Did you pick them out, or were you...clueless? Once you've finished the book, go back to locate the clues hidden in plain sight. How skillful was the author in burying them?

4. Good crime writers also tease us with red-herrings—false clues—to purposely lead readers astray? Does your author try to throw you off track? If so, were you tripped up?

5. Talk about the twists & turns—those surprising plot developments that throw everything you think you've figured out into disarray.

  1. Do they enhance the story, add complexity, and build suspense?
  2. Are they plausible or implausible?
  3. Do they feel forced and gratuitous—inserted merely to extend the story?

6. Does the author ratchet up the suspense? Did you find yourself anxious—quickly turning pages to learn what happened? A what point does the suspense start to build? Where does it climax...then perhaps start rising again?

7. A good ending is essential in any mystery or crime thriller: it should ease up on tension, answer questions, and tidy up loose ends. Does the ending accomplish those goals?

  1. Is the conclusion probable or believable?
  2. Is it organic, growing out of clues previously laid out by the author (see Question 3)?
  3. Or does the ending come out of the blue, feeling forced or tacked-on?
  4. Perhaps it's too predictable.
  5. Can you envision a different or better ending?

8. Are there certain passages in the book—ideas, descriptions, or dialogue—that you found interesting or revealing...or that somehow struck you? What lines, if any, made you stop and think?

9. Overall, does the book satisfy? Does it live up to the standards of a good crime story or suspense thriller? Why or why not?

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