Laura Lippman is one of America’s top crime writers. Her books regularly win awards and earn the acclaim of fellow writers. Her latest, ‘Sunburn’, comes complete with quotes from Stephen King, who calls it “suspenseful as hell” and Gillian Flynn, who describes Lippman as “an unflinching chronicler of life in America right now”.
Well, yes and no. ‘Sunburn’ is set in the mid 1990s – but it also harks back to the 1940s and film noir. There’s a femme fatale, Polly, who served time for killing her husband and may have other skeletons in her closet. There’s a private detective, Adam, who’s hired to get the dirt on Polly but lets her get under his skin instead. There are references to the classic black and white films that defined the genre and which Polly enjoyed watching before her spell in prison. And the action takes place over a long summer, as Delaware swelters in the heat. I kept thinking of films like Body Heat and The Last Seduction, modern spins on a genre that shows no signs of dying just yet.
Lippman tells her tale from various points of view, mostly those of Polly and Adam, but also minor characters connected to one or both of them. The tension rises as the heat increases. There’s smoke. There’s fire. But is Polly to blame or simply the victim of various men’s expectations and projections? To say more would risk giving the game away. Suffice to say, this is a thrilling read and an instant classic.