Written by Laura Lippman

Review written by Philip Gooden

His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.

RRP: £6.99
Released: 5th July 2012

Take five children  -  three brothers, two girls  -  from a Baltimore suburb on the edge of a wild woodland, let them wander around until they find a broken-down cabin occupied by an impoverished black whom they (sort of) befriend, stir in class and sexual tensions, add a night of hurricane and an unexplained death, and leave to simmer for more than thirty years. The result is Laura Lippman’s engrossing The Innocents.

The book begins in the present day with the death, either by accident or suicide, of Gordon, the youngest of the three Halloran brothers. Gordon, known to the others as Go-Go because of his impulsive character, is a ‘failure’ compared to Tim, now a state’s attorney, and Sean, prosperously married and living down in Florida. All three come from a white-collar family clinging precariously above the blue-collar world.

The same couldn’t be said of teenage Mickey, whose happy-go-lucky waitress mother regularly shacked up with various men, or of middle-class Gwen, whose father was a doctor and mother a frustrated artist. The Innocents switches between the late 70s, when Jimmy Carter was President and children could go wandering in the woods, and the present, when Gwen has married a doctor and Mickey reinvented herself as air stewardess McKey. One of things which Laura Lippman persuasively shows is the way all of the children come to echo aspects of their parents as they grow older, even if they were once determined to be different from them. Inevitably, the mysterious  -  possibly murderous  -  events on the night of the hurricane come back to haunt the five, and the truth is revealed only at the end in a piecemeal way.

Who did what remains slightly shadowed, though, in keeping with the multiple viewpoints of the novel. In fact, in the childhood sections, Lippman has a kind of floating narrator, ‘us’, so that the reader is never sure who is telling the story. Although Lippman’s series private eye Tess Monaghan makes a brief appearance near the end, The Innocents is a stand-alone book and is as much a subtle study of character and the workings of time as it is a satisfying psychological thriller.

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