Memories can be deceptive. Two people can think they have the same recollection of an event, only to discover that each has distinctly different memories.
Childhood remembrances especially are fleeting, as Laura Lippman skillfully and subtly explores in The Most Dangerous Thing. Lippman's seventh stand-alone novel — and 17th work of fiction — also is a look at how children often have little idea what goes on in their parents' lives.
It is set in a more innocent time, when children could leave their houses in the morning and return for dinner. That's the kind of summer five youngsters enjoy in Baltimore in 1979. The three Halloran brothers and two girls, Gwen Robison and Mickey Wickham, are children on the cusp of becoming teenagers who forge a seemingly unshakable friendship. Every day they escape to the woods behind their homes, going farther every week until they find a ramshackle cabin where an old man lives. What happens next both bonds them and drives them apart.
Decades later, the friends reunite for the funeral of Gordon Halloran, who died drunk when he crashed his car into a concrete barrier. Uncomfortable reminisces, unsettling revelations and the uncertainty of what was going on in each child's household permeate the four survivors' thoughts and their time together.
The Most Dangerous Thing builds quietly as Lippman's character-rich plot turns on the influence that summer in the woods had on each person. But this is no I Know What You Did Last Summer or updated Big Chill. Lippman doesn't follow any predictable route as she illustrates how connections between people and the consequences of actions vary with individuals. Each character has secrets that none of the others know.
Lippman's acumen with the intricacies of the psychological thriller and her recurring theme of the fragility of memory excel in The Most Dangerous Thing.