What I learned from… ‘Sunburn’ by Laura Lippman

Sunburn by Laura LippmanAbout the book

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also just passing through. Yet she stays. And he stays – drawn to the mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets.

What I learned

Sunburn has no filler, no dead scenes – just page-turning action throughout, packed with twists and precise, hardboiled prose. Laura Lippman manages to include an incredible amount of action and suspense in just under 300 pages.

The most impressive part of her writing is the way she creates fully rounded, believable characters. Some noirish fiction has cardboard characters, but in Sunburn they feel fully alive; their motivations and actions believable in the world of the story. The women in the book – Polly and Cath – are easily the equals of the men, and much more rounded than the usual noirish femme fatales.

Everyone in the story is driven by desire – for sex, money or revenge – with Lippman giving out just the right amount of secrets and backstories to keep the reader hooked. And just when you feel you know these characters, you find you don’t know them at all. It’s over a third of the way into the book before we realise what the real story is, but by then, we’re hooked.

He’s changed.
Polly can’t put her finger on it, but something is different about Adam. She had him. He was hooked, addicted. He was almost too far gone on her, gazing at her when he thought no one was looking, humming all the time.
Now he steals glances when he thinks she isn’t looking.
They still follow their same routine- friendly colleagues at work, secret lovers at night. Adam and Eve, whiskey down. If anything, he seems more passionate during sex. But out of bed, it’s as if a transparent screen has fallen between them. She catches him with his arms folded, considering her. He studies her face when she speaks.
His food is getting crazier, as if he’s trying to impress her.
He is trying to figure out if he can tell when she is lying.

I’m partway through editing a novel, and the expert way Lippman controls the storylines and action makes me want to go back and rejig everything I’ve done so far. In every scene, she gets in late, gets out early, and leaves the reader eager to turn the page – and I don’t think there’s any greater compliment. I can’t wait to read the rest of her work.

More about this book

Published in 2018 by William Morrow

Sunburn at HarperCollins


Laura Lippman on Instagram

About ‘What I learned…’

I read anything and everything and think there’s writing inspiration to take from from books of every genre.

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