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Former reporter takes ‘spree killer’ case and turns it into latest crime fiction novel

“I’d Know You Anywhere” by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, 370 pages, 25.99)

Some of our leading crime fiction authors started their writing careers as newspaper reporters. John Sandford won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting. Michael Connelly was a crime beat reporter early on in his writing career. Their books are best-sellers time and again.

Laura Lippman worked 20 years as a reporter. She spent 12 of those years writing for The Baltimore Sun. Her experiences as a reporter have informed and inspired her crime fiction. Her most recent novel, “I’d Know You Anywhere,” is loosely based on the true story of a Virginia man who abducted and murdered several young women.

This “spree killer” was finally caught and eventually executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Lippman has taken the bare bones of that case and elaborated upon them. The result is a tightly plotted psychological thriller that reveals a writer who has really hit her stride in this genre.

As the story begins, a soccer mom in suburban Maryland is living a quiet life with her husband and two children. Eliza Benedict and her family have recently relocated to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., from London, England. The couple have a 13-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.

Eliza’s husband has a high-power job. She chauffeurs her children to school and to soccer practice. Being a housewife and a mother is the one occupation that she truly enjoys. Their peaceful life shatters when a mysterious letter appears.

The letter has been sent to Eliza by the man who abducted her 22 years before, when she was 15. He kept her as his prisoner for 40 days during the autumn of 1985. He abducted other girls, too. Eliza was the only one who survived her ordeal.

The man who kidnapped her, Walter Bowman, is now on Death Row in Virginia awaiting execution for the murder of his final victim. Nobody knows how many women he actually killed. He’s not talking. Somehow he has figured out Eliza’s new identity, where she lives and how to contact her.

Bowman’s death sentence has kept getting delayed, but it will finally be carried out in just a few weeks. The arrival of his letter sets off a chain of events that forces Eliza to initiate contact with this manipulative sociopath.

The author executes a series of seamless back-and-forth time shifts that take readers to the settings for the original crimes then into the present where Bowman is doing everything in his power to forestall his execution one more time.

Lippman plumbs the darkness inside the mind of her killer. She shows how a victim can be made to feel like an accomplice. And she shines a light upon a penal system where the death penalty can be enforced with a randomness as arbitrary as the irregular boundaries of our state border lines.

Lippman’s exquisitely rendered prose and flair for drama will leave some readers breathless at the intense climax of “I’d Know You Anywhere.”

Contact book reviewer Vick Mickunas at vick@vickmickunas.com