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Cold case, hot author

Stephen BedfordVail CO, Colorado

Baltimore is a quaint city nestled along the Chesapeake Bay, renowned for its seafood, colonial history and its remarkably high crime rate.Perhaps nobody has shined the light on Charm City’s seedy underbelly more than award-winning crime writer Laura Lippman, who visits Eat! Drink! Wednesday at 5 p.m. as part of The Bookworm’s visiting author series. Lippman spares no details about her hometown, which has served as the backdrop for her dozen novels. From corrupt cops to crab cakes, stick-up kids to strolls along the city’s posh Inner Harbor, devious politicians to doubleheaders at Camden Yards, Lippman makes every reader at home in Baltimore. Although enchanting on the surface, Baltimore has its share of evil, averaging nearly a homicide a day. Baltimore would annually have murder cases in the thousands if it had New York City’s population.For 12 years Lippman was a full-time reporter for The Baltimore Sun, yet still managed to release a novel a year beginning in 1997. She actually debuted with two releases that year: “Baltimore Blues” and “Charm City.” Those two novels introduced Lippman’s primary protagonist Tess Monaghan (who, cruelly, is allergic to shellfish), a private investigator with a penchant for precarious predicaments. The debut duo also launched Lippman’s award tour, which includes virtually every known crime fiction prize such as the Agatha, the Edgar and the Gumshoe, among others.Lippman even garnered the first-ever Baltimore City Mayor’s prize for fiction in 2003, which may seem ironic since she has made a career of critiquing the city. She is quick to point out there’s plenty of affection for the city within her novel’s pages.”I love Baltimore and my life here is idyllic,” Lippman said. “The public schools aren’t particularly good and opportunities are fewer and fewer. The difference, I guess, is that the haves and the have-nots in Baltimore, and cities like Baltimore, aren’t separated by much.”Monaghan has managed to crack cases up and down the Baltimore social ladder, including a high-price attorney who pays dearly for his serial infidelities, a trio of girlfriends on the wrong side of a gun in a high school bathroom and a vigilante in the aptly-named neighborhood of Butcher’s Hill.The super sleuth takes a seat in Lippman’s most recent release, “What the Dead Know,” ($24.99. HarperCollins, available now). The novel represents Lippman’s most ambitious work to date, featuring a multi-layered plot that unfolds across roughly three decades.”It was very difficult and a lot of credit needs to go to the copy editor and the proofreader, both of whom did a wonderful job ensuring the book’s continuity,” Lippman said of the time travel across generations. “The trick, for me, was writing in a chronological order, although that wasn’t the original plan. I wrote the first section, which takes place over Tuesday and Wednesday 2005, then began writing the section set in 1975. “When I was done, I found I couldn’t return to the present until I knew more,” Lippman said. “So I wrote 1976, then 1983, then 1989. I felt as if I were ‘cheating’ because I’ve always been an advocate of writing straight through a draft.””What the Dead Know” focuses on the squabbling Bethany sisters, Sunny and Heather, and their disappearance into thin air from a busy Baltimore-area mall in the mid 1970s. Every avenue of the investigation became a dead end until an ordinary Tuesday night in 2005. A woman flees the scene of a hit-and-run only to be apprehended down the road, claiming to be Heather Bethany.The “cold case” heats up under the guidance of Kevin Infante, a Baltimore City detective, who likes his liquor hard and his women easy. Infante, a more-than capable detective if not unorthodox, discovers all the twists the case has taken during its dormancy.Though the story’s chronology became a tricky task, Lippman still used her usual formula when manufacturing the mystery.”When writing, I generally know what I call the big secret. But I don’t always know why people do what they do, or how the book’s primary investigator is going to put it together,” Lippman said. “I also go through many, many drafts, and with each draft, I have more control, more knowledge, so I can mislead readers where I see fit, and slip in the key details where I think they belong.” At the core of the story is the dynamic of the Bethany family. The morether, Miriam, is having an amorous affair with the head of her realty firm, meanwhile her husband, David, is a bohemian struggling to run an off-beat crafts store while alienating his adolescent daughters with his hippie tendencies, and the sisters take sibling rivalry to new heights.”I did a lot of babysitting in the 1970s and the Bethany family is influenced by some of the things I observed,” Lippman said. “Not the actual situation so much as parents of a certain age, who seemed to feel a little wistful about missing out on the big social changes of the late 1960s and early 1970s.”The publicity push of “What the Dead Know” promises to put Lippman at the forefront of the crowded suspense/crime scene, and deservedly so. It may also solidify Lippman and her husband, David Simon, as crime-creating royalty. Simon is the creator and principle writer of HBO’s critically-acclaimed, highly-addictive serial drama The Wire, which focuses on city issues with the war on drugs as the underlying theme.Both pieces of art exude affection for Baltimore, and aren’t afraid to examine its faults as a microcosm of what’s wrong with America. Lippman’s novels also have a reputation as being an unofficial dining guide to the city, although she insisted she receives no special treatment despite her celebrity. After “What the Dead Know” she might get a table a little quicker, and not just in Baltimore.Meet the authorWhat: Booksigning and reading with Laura LippmanWhen: 5 p.m. WednesdayWhere: Eat! Drink! in EdwardsCost: Tickets are $20 available Information: Call The Bookworm at 926-7323.


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