Laura Lippman, Sunburn (2018)

A while ago Leila from Big Reading Life got me thinking about TBR and lists kept on Goodreads or elsewhere. I mentioned that I had a “on-hold” list of books that I’d started, abandoned but don’t really want to give up on – and I realized that it was a bit, well, stupid. It really felt that I’d created a “should read” category that would weigh on me and make me feel guilty. High time to revisit that list and get read of it, one way or the other. Either read it or let it go.

Sunburn was one of those books that I had on shelf. As I was going for a break I took it in my luggage and planned to not come back with it, read or unread. So which one do you think it went?

My first reading attempt was stopped before page 100. The story is set in small town Delaware where a private detective is following a young beautiful, red-head woman in hiding. No, stop, it’s not so straightforward: it’s a private detective posing as a cook, working in an old-style diner alongside a runaway woman posing as a waitress. We don’t know what she’s running from and why he’s following her. We have his inner monolog and hers, and I remember being annoyed that much of the thoughts was: I know he knows I’ve lied, but he doesn’t know that I know he knows, so… Far too convoluted if I was tired or not fully focused.

Luckily the second time around, I was more relaxed, more patient (this is indeed a slow burner), and more open to suspending my disbelief. Characters in this novel are shady and not entirely likeable, and the atmosphere it conjures is definitely a noir movie. What is unusual is that for most of the book we’re not quite clear what the crime is. There’s a thick web of secrets and I didn’t see the ending coming. Laura Lippmann is indeed a plot master!

I’m glad I persevered with this book, although as a red-head myself, I’m not a great fan of the mysterious, venenous red-head woman trope.

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