Review: Don't Look Back - Laura Lippman
“25 years ago he stole her innocence, now he knows where she lives...”
From the author of To The Power Of Three and the Tess Monoghan series, comes Don’t Look Back, a gripping and intriguing story of memory and murder.
Eliza Benedict leads a simple, quiet family life in the leafy suburbs of Washington. But her world is set to come crashing down around her as she receives a letter from the man who abducted and sexually abused her as a teenager. Now on death row, Walter Bowman, a serial killer and kidnapper, is looking to reach out to Eliza; the victim who lived.
The novel is constructed as two parallel narratives; beginning in the present where we meet Eliza for the first time. She is a mother and wife who has just returned to the USA after following her husband’s career to London and is finding it difficult to connect with her role as a suburban American. This narrative is intertwined with chapters based in 1985 and the tale of her abduction by Walter Bowman as well as his previous encounters with other young women whom he abused and murdered.
The parallel story-lines allow us to connect with both Eliza as a woman whilst also understanding Elizabeth as a teenager. This also allows us to see Walter from both the perspective of killer and abductor as well as his incarcerated present self. Both Walter and Eliza are extremely complex characters who do not conform to generic archetypes of hero and villain. The psychology of both is so well explained through their conversations as well as the use of ‘flashback’ chapters that we are presented with a truly unique example of the victim/abductor relationship.
Through her supporting characters such as Trudy Tackett and Barbara LaFortuny, Lippman engages the reader in every aspect of moral debate surrounding the cases for and against capital punishment. However, she manages to do this in a way that is not didactic or ‘preachy’. Both Trudy and Barbara make valid points whilst also showing irrational and often despicable behaviour. If there is one thing that is notable about this novel, it is that each character is human, with both flaws and strengths which make each of them identifiable and understandable.
It would be very simple with subject matter such as this, to create a black and white perspective, but Lippman remains professional and unbiased with a conversational tone which allows the reader to combat a difficult moral debate in a gripping and engaging way. Walter is not a simple monster but a complex human being with a difficult personality and psychology that makes him one of the more interesting and believable villains in this genre of writing.
The importance of memory and recollection throughout Don’t Look Back highlights the importance of emotions and trauma on childhood memory. This theme allows us to constantly question whose memory is the truth, creating constant second-guessing and wonderful tension. Even as the story comes to an end we are left wondering what story is true and if our own theories have been manipulated much like that characters’ memories of the past.
As the story reaches its conclusion, the reader is struck by the emotional attachment one has formed with the characters as they have revealed themselves delicately, piece by piece, throughout the story. It is an ending of emotional conflict and uncertainty but that is what makes it such a genuine and thought provoking read.
This is an honest piece of work with an accessible tone and effortless style. The gripping nature of both past and present narratives melds together for an unforgettable climax whilst constantly begging you to turn the page. Despite the disturbing and gripping plot, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read with three dimensional characters and a distinctively human cast.