Life Sentences Book Review3 min read

“The problem was that such simple, ordinary bliss seldom formed memories. It was too smooth and silken to adhere. It was the bad stuff, ragged and uneven that caught, like all those plastic grocery bags stuck in the trees of Baltimore.” 

Author: Laura Lippman                          Published: 2009                       Pages: 387

This book was a really random buy – I was in a charity shop and saw it under the crime section and thought the blurb sounded pretty good, although I’d never heard of Laura Lippman before. While in the past, random buys have been very successful, this was not. The book is about a writer – Cassandra Fallows – who has had a lot of success with her published memoirs, however her fiction writing doesn’t seem to have much of an audience. While she is thinking of new ideas for her latest book, she stumbles on the story of a old friend from school who was accused of killing her baby son and jailed for seven years. But, ten years down the line, the whole case is still a mystery. A body was never found and the mother – Calliope Jenkins – never confessed or denied the charges. Callie chose to stay silent about what happened, not admitting guilt or pleading innocence.

I enjoyed the way Lippman portrayed Cassandra, Callie and the group of girls in their childhood and then contrasted this to the women as adults. She managed to capture an honest and realistic version of the unexpected and unique obstacles that life can throw at you. All the women encountered things which resulted in completely changing their life and character forever.

The main issue I had with this book was that it took a long time to get going. The main allure of a crime thriller should be it’s ability to be un-put-downable but, I was almost three quarters of the way through before Cassandra actually started finding out what had happened during the trials and dramas of Callie’s case. As a crime novel I feel like there was an element of suspense missing – I was never hooked. I could easily put this book down for a few days, so it took me longer than usual to read. Furthermore I really struggled to keep up with the different characters; the chapters are narrated from different perspectives, but there is no structure to who narrates next, and the perspectives are not different enough to immediately know who is speaking.

By the end, some of the characters just seem insignificant, not really adding anything substantial to the story at all. Once I’d finished, I was at a loss as to what had actually happened and the only reason I kept reading was to satisfy the itch to find out the truth about Callie’s case all those years ago. However, I found that even when I did find out what happened, it was anticlimactic and I was just left confused and disappointed. Overall this book had the potential to be a very profound and fast-paced read, but unfortunately Lippman didn’t manage it this time.

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