Laura Lippman is one of my favorite authors because she’s so darn consistent.  Whether it’s her Tess Monaghan series or her spectacular stand alones, her storytelling has only gotten finer the more she writes.  Last year’s What the Dead Know is one of my all-time favorite books, an almost perfect example of how to write a great story that will knock your readers socks off.

That holds true for her newest stand alone, Life Sentences.  Cassandra Fallows has made a profitable living selling her own story.  Her two memoirs have left her financially comfortable; her first fictional novel, not so much.  Realizing non-fiction is her best format, searching for a new book idea, she comes across a real-life unsolved mystery surrounding a former high school friend accused of killing her infant son.

Calliope has never spoken about the child in the seven years she’s been in prison for refusing to speak about his whereabouts.  Out now, living a proscribed life and taking care of her mother in a nursing home, she faces her remaining years in a time warp or boredom.

Enter Cassandra, determined to find the answer to her story, entwined with her own memories of Calliope and three other friends who formed their ‘group’ for several years in school.  She find their memories all have different takes while unraveling the threads of Calliope’s life, and taking a good, hard look at her own.

This is social realism at its best, as Lippman knows the Baltimore neighborhoods of all classes she writes about.  The plot twists and turns hit Cassandra, the white girl in the group, and point out the separation from her black friends that mostly escaped her in school.  It’s a tour de force from author who never disappoints.