“Some secrets can’t be kept….
Years ago, they were all the best of friends. But as time passed and circumstances changed, they grew apart, became adults with families of their own, and began to forget about the past — and the terrible lie they all shared. But now Gordon, the youngest and wildest of the five, has died and the others are thrown together for the first time in years.
And then the revelations start.
Could their long-ago lie be the reason for their troubles today? Is it more dangerous to admit to what they’ve done or is it the strain of keeping the secret that is beginning to wear on them and everyone close to them? Each one of these old friends has to wonder if their secret has been discovered — and if someone within the circle is out to destroy them.”
Thoughts: The streak of excellent novels had to end sometime. End it did with the reading of Laura Lippman’s The Most Dangerous Thing. Even though she has won numerous awards for her work, The Most Dangerous Thing is not her most impressive piece of fiction. In fact, it falls flat as it explores the consequences of secrets from a long-ago event that tore apart a group of friends.
There are several issues with The Most Dangerous Thing that precludes a reader’s thorough enjoyment of the novel. One of these is the narrator. Told in first-person omniscient, the narrator never identifies him- or herself. Clues as to the identity of the mysterious and all-knowing narrator are confusing. While knowing the identity of the narrator is not necessary to the overall plot, it can be bothersome reading as this unknown entity inserts him- or herself into the story. It is both annoying and puzzling because the first-person narrative implies direct knowledge of the proceedings and direct involvement with each of the characters. Yet, as the story progresses and each of the characters’ struggles comes under the spotlight, the narrator eliminates each of the five main characters as possibilities. This makes the narrator an unknown sixth member of the group, which flies in the face of the constant mentioning of the five spokes of a star – which is how the group refers to itself. Again, it is not necessary to decipher the mystery of the narrator to understand or enjoy the rest of the novel, but it is a niggling presence that can exasperate an attentive reader.
The characters are another major issue of the novel. The Most Dangerous Thing hinges on the premise that these five people meant the world to each other, and something horrible caused them to fall apart. Actually, this is what Ms. Lippman would like the reader to believe. What comes across is something far different. For one thing, Ms. Lippman does not present her case well that these five teenagers were lifelong friends abruptly torn apart by secrets. A reader quickly realizes they were anything but lifelong friends, as they were only friends together for a brief period of time. Even though they spent a few key summers together, summer friendships are not the same thing as BFFs. Similarly, the secret that supposedly tore them apart was not quite as shocking or life-altering as one might expect, tragic though it is. Instead, readers can see the group of friends fracturing well before the secret event deepened the fissure. All this results in a story that does not quite sit right with a reader, as the idea of four people who last hung out together thirty years ago coming to the aid of a fifth childhood friend is highly unlikely. Even worse, the idea that these same four people would still refer to a forty-year-old man as Go-Go is even more laughable and just as aggravating.
Lastly, the mystery itself is the last major issue of the novel. The sense of horror and trauma that one would expect to exist once the final secret is uncovered never occurs. The big event that supposedly changes the course of their friendship is equally clouded, as the all-knowing narrator does not know what truly happened and never really shares the truth. Rather, the reader discovers the truth in nondramatic pieces. The effect is a novel that is a mystery without any suspense, a drama without any emotion. In other words, the entire story is about as anticlimactic as they come.
While Ms. Lippman is known for her mysteries, and while it technically does fall into that same category, it is difficult to consider The Most Dangerous Thing as a true mystery. There is no whodunit, no real suspense, and no life-or-death situations. Rather than letting the unfolding mystery set the tone and pace, the characters drive the plot as each reevaluates their life’s choices in the aftermath of the death of one of their childhood friends. Unfortunately, none of the characters is very enjoyable, leaving a reader unimpressed and unmoved by the urgency and emotions the characters supposedly feel. Even though there are glimpses of the talent that has made Ms. Lippman so popular among mystery enthusiasts, without a real mystery and without the necessary emotional connections to build suspense, The Most Dangerous Thing fails to impress.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Chelsey Emmelhainz and Shawn Nicholls from William Morrow for my review copy!