What you thought of: Don't Look Back by Laura Lippman

Category: Reviews

dontlookback “25 years ago he stole her innocence, now he knows where she lives…”

From the author of To The Power of Three and the Tess Monoghan series, comes Don’t Look Back, a gripping and intriguing story of memory and murder.

Eliza Benedict leads a simple, quiet family life in the leafy suburbs of Washington. But her world is set to come crashing down around her as she receives a letter from the man who abducted and sexually abused her as a teenager. Now on death row, Walter Bowman, a serial killer and kidnapper, is looking to reach out to Eliza; the victim who lived.

The novel is constructed as two parallel narratives; beginning in the present where we meet Eliza for the first time. She is a mother and wife who has just returned to the USA after following her husband’s career to London and is finding it difficult to connect with her role as a suburban American. This narrative is intertwined with chapters based in 1985 and the tale of her abduction by Walter Bowman as well as his previous encounters with other young women whom he abused and murdered.

The parallel story-lines allow us to connect with both Eliza as a woman whilst also understanding Elizabeth as a teenager. This also allows us to see Walter from both the perspective of killer and abductor as well as his incarcerated present self. Both Walter and Eliza are extremely complex characters who do not conform to generic archetypes of hero and villain. The psychology of both is so well explained through their conversations as well as the use of ‘flashback’ chapters that we are presented with a truly unique example of the victim/abductor relationship.

Through her supporting characters such as Trudy Tackett and Barbara LaFortuny, Lippman engages the reader in every aspect of moral debate surrounding the cases for and against capital punishment. However, she manages to do this in a way that is not didactic or ‘preachy’. Both Trudy and Barbara make valid points whilst also showing irrational and often despicable behaviour. If there is one thing that is notable about this novel, it is that each character is human, with both flaws and strengths which make each of them identifiable and understandable.

It would be very simple with subject matter such as this, to create a black and white perspective, but Lippman remains professional and unbiased with a conversational tone which allows the reader to combat a difficult moral debate in a gripping and engaging way. Walter is not a simple monster but a complex human being with a difficult personality and psychology that makes him one of the more interesting and believable villains in this genre of writing.

The importance of memory and recollection throughout Don’t Look Back highlights the importance of emotions and trauma on childhood memory. This theme allows us to constantly question whose memory is the truth, creating constant second-guessing and wonderful tension. Even as the story comes to an end we are left wondering what story is true and if our own theories have been manipulated much like that characters’ memories of the past.

As the story reaches its conclusion, the reader is struck by the emotional attachment one has formed with the characters as they have revealed themselves delicately, piece by piece, throughout the story. It is an ending of emotional conflict and uncertainty but that is what makes it such a genuine and thought provoking read.

This is an honest piece of work with an accessible tone and effortless style. The gripping natures of both past and present narratives meld together for an unforgettable climax whilst constantly begging you to turn the page. Despite the disturbing and gripping plot, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read with three dimensional characters and a distinctively human cast.

ANASTASIA CATRIS

 
The year that Elizabeth Lerner was 15, a chance encounter with a spree killer named Walter Bowman irrevocably altered the course of her young life
Kidnapped and held by Bowman for 39 days she has always believed herself to be the sole witness to his final murder , that of 14 year old Holly Tackett …….but was the truth really as straightforward as it appeared?
Twenty years on, and determined not to be defined by her past, Elizabeth is now Eliza Benedict, happily married, devoted to her two children and living the suburban dream.
Although Walter Bowman was tried and convicted for kidnapping and raping Elizabeth it was Holly’s murder, which occurred across the state lines in Virginia that put him on Death Row where he has been languishing ever since.
But now his time is rapidly running out and the only person who can save him from the ultimate punishment for his crimes is Eliza.

Having survived her time with Bowman, where others before and after did not, Eliza has always known that she was considered the “lucky one”.
But luck is always relative and the last thing Eliza feels is lucky when Walter Bowman tracks her down with the help of a press clipping and a sympathetic associate. “I’d know you anywhere” says his note, and he is not referring to her face.
Eliza knows that she survived the 1985 kidnapping due to her compliant and biddable nature, a nature that Bowman now has every intention of manipulating to his advantage in his final bid for life.

In “Don’t Look Back” Laura Lippman has crafted a sensitive and thought provoking novel with fully developed protagonists and a strong supporting cast.
Alternating between 1985 – the year Elizabeth/Eliza was taken – and the present day, she develops her characters into fully rounded human beings complete with all the flaws, complexities and insecurities that that entails.
They are not always likeable but they are honest and believable and their dialogue flows so naturally that the reader quickly develops a strong sense of affinity.

Although this book deals with some weighty issues, not least of which is the motivations of those who campaign so passionately both for and against the death penalty, it never becomes maudlin or bogged down in morality.
The facts and ambiguities are presented and ultimately the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

In conclusion “Don’t Look Back” shows an emotional intelligence that sets it apart and makes it a true killer read!

JO BARRY

Eliza was fifteen when she was kidnapped by killer Walter Bowman, in the middle of a spree that left at least two girls dead and several others missing. But after a month he let Eliza go, alive. Without understanding why, she put the past behind her and built a happy, if unremarkable, life. Now after twenty-five years on death row, Walter is due for execution. But he’s tracked Eliza down – and he thinks she owes him for the life he spared.
Don’t Look Back is not a gory slasher story. There’s little explicit violence; instead the menace lies in how normal the killer is – even vulnerable at times. As a murderer Walter is terrifyingly human, rather than a psychotic stereotype. In a nuanced and skilfully drawn portrayal, we understand the complexity of the feelings Eliza could have for the man she came to know so well, as well as her guilt at surviving. Also well drawn are the tensions in Eliza’s own seemingly model family, as her teenage daughter grows distant and deceitful. With the parallels to the trauma she herself experienced in her teens, I expected Eliza’s safe family life would be put in jeopardy. However, the danger is really to Eliza’s inner life – will she let Walter back inside her head after so many years? He promises to reveal which other girls he killed if she recants the testimony she gave years ago and spares him the electric chair, leaving Eliza torn between protecting her own family and helping those who lost children – and perhaps atoning for her own guilt in living. At the same time we see the viewpoints of a grieving family whose daughter Walter killed, and his supporter, an anti death-penalty activist.
Although most of the danger is in the past, Don’t Look Back is a compelling page-turner as well as an exploration of forgiveness and punishment. Despite his terrible crimes, there is a connection between Walter and Eliza that she can’t fully escape (this is brought out more strongly in the US title, I’d Know You Anywhere). It’s also an exploration of what it means to survive, and how much it can cost us. I would perhaps have liked to see Eliza change more over the novel – despite what she went through as a teenager she doesn’t appear overprotective or unduly worried about her own children, and this lessens the impact of the choice she has to make to save or condemn Walter. She is however a strong and sympathetic character. Despite her complicated feelings for Walter, we never blame Eliza for her actions as a young girl or an adult, although the media and the families of the dead girls inevitably judge her for surviving. The flashbacks to her time with Walter unfold with a matter-of-fact horror, and in its depiction of how a seemingly normal man can come to commit terrible crimes, the book is perhaps more frightening than many full-on horror stories.

CLAIRE MCGOWAN

 

Laura Lippman has definitely made her way onto my Must Read More list! Don’t Look Back is a brilliantly crafted thriller, with all kinds of psychological twists and turns. It tells the story of Eliza Benedict, who lives quietly with her husband and two children. But what most people know is that Eliza has a secret. As a 15-year-old, she was abducted and raped by Walter Bowman, who targeted young girls. Walter is now on death row for murdering another girl and suddenly he gets in contact with Eliza. He wants to atone for his sins, he says, to apologise for what he did to her.
From this point on, Lippman takes the reader on a rollercoaster journey, as Eliza must decide whether to see Walter one last time before he is executed. I spent a good deal of the book wanting to tell Eliza to stay away, but also desperate to find out what Walter knows. I was fascinated by the idea that she might have been involved in his other crimes, which certainly seemed to be suggested. In fact, I think Eliza almost believed it at one point! But like all good thriller writers, Lippman managed to catch me out with a fantastic ending.
Well worth reading, and I’ll certainly be trying to track down her other books, although it may mean almost missing my stop on the train a few times!
(*****) 5 stars definitely

 LYNNE MILFORD

 
I started reading this book with a keen sense of anticipation, having seen all the comments. However, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed initially. The story begins slowly, and I kept waiting for something more to happen, something to pull me in to the story. Stay with it! It does.
The interaction between the events of today and Eliza’s kidnapping by Walter, in the mid eighties, works very well side by side. Walter begins to show his true colours by revealing his darker side, on the way to becoming a killer. I became intrigued by the manner of Eliza’s kidnapping and what the outcome would be. Did she manipulate Walter to save herself, at Holly’s expense? Or, did he fall slightly in love with her and so let her live.
Walter is the typical serial killer, with his own inadequacies of life. Wanting something he can never have – success with women. Despite being on death row, he is still terrified of dying and his manipulative mind has convinced itself that Eliza is the only one who can save him. This is all with the help of Barbara LaFortuny, who befriends him on death row, yet never actually meets Walter.
As Walter makes contact with Eliza, and the story falls to its conclusion, it makes us think about how we actually remember events, especially when under duress. Clever lawyers also trick us into a version of the truth, which might not be fully accurate.
Eliza’s character grows with the story. Hers was always a well-drawn character, but as the story draws to a close and, finally, she stands up to Walter and consequently he loses his hold over her, she more than comes into her own. The ending allows her to walk away with her head held up high, no longer a doormat for anyone.
Recommended.

HELEN LOWRY

Loosely based on a true story – Don’t Look Back is a fascinating tale of kidnap and murder which unfolds at a steady pace. With very good solid and believable characters throughout, the story spans 25 years of Eliza Benedict’s life from the time she was abducted by a serial killer (Walter Bowman) to her safe new life. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the story moved backwards and forwards in time from 1985 to present day. Also, I liked the clever way each section of the book is dedicated to various songs which reached high in the Charts that particular year.

I admire the way the author handled the tricky subjects of rape and murder sensitively without any graphic scenes of violence. A really good read which holds your attention. Definitely a page turner – couldn’t put it down until I reached the end. Excellent – good to take on holiday.

The short story “Honour Bar” was also very good, both thrilling and amusing. Would be brilliant if it was extended into a full length novel. Very clever story – had me completely fooled because I anticipated quite a different ending.

LYN BOSOMWORTH


I’ve enjoyed some of Laura Lippman’s previous novels and was looking forward to reading ‘Don’t Look Back’, the synopsis of the plot seems intriguing and the story started well.
However, I struggled to keep an interest in the story of Eliza – a woman who was abducted by a serial killer when she was fifteen years old. Eliza got away from Walter Bowman who was sentenced to death, she has a comfortable life now with her family, but this is soon upset when she receives a letter from Walter.

So, the potential for a great story, especially as it’s told in a dual time frame, going back to the time that Eliza spent with Walter and then back to her current situation – but for me there was something lacking. Not in the writing, that is fine, but the suspense that I expected was not there. I found it difficult to connect to Eliza’s character – she wasn’t traumatised by her experience and her husband was supportive, so no problems there. Eliza seemed flat somehow and this made it difficult for me to actually care about the story.

This wouldn’t put me off reading more by Lippman, but it’s not really mystery or suspense.

ANNE CATER

 

This was a very enjoyable book and kept the suspense from the first page to the very end.
Walter was not the ordinary killer or indeed kidnapper and Elizabeth the most unusual victim. It was a revelation to see the crimes from all perspective not just the crime itself. The impact that this left on lives all around was devastating and best left in the past but that was not to be, who was Barbara? Eliza got to find out with devastating consequences. The whole debacle was an eye opener and still gave up surprises till the last page. Great Read and I think a great take on the ‘normal ‘ crime. I will definitely be looking up the other Laura Lippman books.

CRLSPEIGHT@AOL.COM

 
The book begins by introducing the reader to Eliza Benedict, a 38 year old mother of two with a happy marriage and loving husband.
Eliza has a secret known to very few people which is that when she was 15 years old, she was abducted by a serial killer, Walter Bowman, and was his only surviving victim.
When she receives a letter from Walter her quiet life is shattered and the past comes back to haunt her. Walter is on Death Row awaiting punishment for the crimes he committed and wants to get reacquainted with Eliza.
The book dips between the present and back to the past and we are also introduced to Walter and what made him tick.
I found all the characters believable and I could relate to them all, even at some point feeling sympathy towards Walter and exasperation at the then Elizabeth, who changed her name after her ordeal.
The book is an enjoyable, if uncomfortable read and holds attention at all times with the twists and turns between past and present as we get to learn more about the relationship between Walter and Elizabeth 23 years before and how Walter, who on the surface seems a little simple and misunderstood, turned gradually into the monster he became.

PATRICIA THOMPSON

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