It’s an explicit salute to Cain — at one point one of its main characters takes certain inspiration from the classic film versions of Postman and Indemnity — and a more than worthy one ... It’s tough to say very much about Sunburn without risking spoilers, and this book deserves not to be spoiled. It’s a virtuoso performance of crafting plot, point of view and voice to reveal some things to the reader while withholding others to create a decadent, delicious tension.
Sunburn oozes with domestic unease, with women all around upending the natural order of things ... In a novel this good, it's unfair to reveal too much of the plot or its twists, but suffice it to say Sunburn has more than a few, all of them satisfying ... Sunburn is a portrait of a strong woman—equal to any Lippman has created—who has learned the hard way who she is, what she needs and how to defend herself.
Sunburn, though cool and twisty, has more heart than expected. It’s generous in other ways, too. The particular atmosphere of unlovely Belleville is deftly conveyed ... People move in and out of the narrative with their own baggage and preoccupations. What they choose to tell us is very subjective and not always directly relevant, and this clamor of voices gives the novel satisfying depth and texture. There’s a sense here that we’re brushing up against many lives, many versions of the truth.
Laura Lippman's versatility as a writer ascends to a new level with her excellent 22nd novel, Sunburn, which ignites as a classic hard-boiled mystery and contemporary domestic thriller ... Lust, deceit and the simple quest for happiness rule the plot as Sunburn works well as an homage to Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Anne Tyler. Lippman delves into a study of contrasts with a story that's as cynical as it is hopeful, a look at hearts of darkness coupled with a domestic thriller ... The ingenious plot evolves into myriad twists that are as believable as they are surprising ... Lippman's tight control on Sunburn delivers one of the year's most intriguing mysteries.
It is indeed a dark tale with no shortage of sex and violence. It is also an impressive achievement, particularly in her creation of Polly Costello, a sometimes lethal woman who may or may not be more sinned against than sinning ... The novel is enhanced by delightful writing ... Lippman’s story builds toward two questions: If Polly and Adam will live happily ever after and if either the crooked insurance man or her spurned husband will try to kill the lovers. That cannot be revealed here, but it’s fair to say that the ending Lippman has devised for her experiment in noir is a total surprise and, this reader thought, a good one.
Sunburn is Lippman’s homage to the legacy of James M. Cain, a fellow Baltimore native and a contemporary of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler ... In short: Greed, lust, murder, money, all of which Sunburn delivers.
Lippman deploys, with obvious relish and consummate skill, an assortment of classic pulp crime-novel tropes. ... What makes the novel such good fun for fans of the genre is the self-aware way Lippman plays with these conventions ... What makes the book so lethally seductive is Lippman’s utter control over the narrative, which ticks away with relentless fatalism.
What is brilliant about Lippman’s achievement here is how she has reimagined the dark beauty and fever-dream erotic intensity of her noir touchstone and melded it with the uneasy will-you-won’t-you of the bourgeois mating ritual ... Rich philosophy for a noir tale to sustain, but Lippman handles it with masterly flair, delivering a thrilling succession of revelations and perfectly weighted twists in a fluent prose liberally salted with side-of-the-mouth wit and wisdom.
Lippman answers these questions, and several more besides, but in an especially tantalizing manner, parceling out information slowly, a bit here, a bit there, letting us spend some time processing a new revelation before dropping another one on us. Ingeniously constructed and extremely suspenseful, the novel keeps us guessing right up until its final moments. Lippman is a popular and dependable writer, and this homage to classic noir showcases a writer at the height of her powers.
Lippman’s trademark is populating a whodunit with characters so believably complicated that they don’t need the mystery to carry the book. If that’s not quite the case here, you can tell how much fun the author had updating the classic noir tropes, and it’s contagious. Plotty, page-turning pleasure plus instructions on how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich and how to stab a man in the heart.
Lippman ratchets up the suspense the way the mercury in a thermometer creeps up on a hot August day, until everything—Polly’s carefully laid plans of revenge and redemption, Adam’s part in her potential downfall—comes to a boiling point. This is Lippman at her observant, fiercest best, a force to be reckoned with in crime fiction.