Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Review: PROM MOM

PROM MOM by Laura Lippman (Faber, 2023)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

New York Times bestseller Laura Lippman tells the story of Amber Glass, desperately trying to get away from her tabloid past but compulsively drawn back to the city of her youth and the prom date who destroyed everything she was reaching for.

After establishing herself as terrific, award-winning voice in modern crime writing with her excellent, long-running series starring Baltimore reporter turned private eye Tess Monaghan, in recent years New York Times bestseller Laura Lippman has continually challenged herself and delighted readers and critics with a string of very different standalones. From multi-layered Wilde Lake exploring family secrets, changing smalltown mores and stories we tell ourselves, to the extraordinary, multi-narrated Lady in the Lake exploring racial tensions and many forms of bigotry in 1960s Baltimore, to 2021’s claustrophobic suspense Dream Girl, with its nod to Stephen King, Lippman’s been masterful.

Now, she plunges us into a slow-burn thriller that digs into a ‘whatever happened to?’ scenario, decades after a tabloid headlines style scandal. Amber Glass desperately wants to escape her tragic past but is compulsively drawn back to her hometown and Joe, the now-middle-aged man who was Amber’s prom date one fateful night that changed her life forever, destroying her teenage dreams.

Amber fears she’ll always wear the tabloid moniker ‘Prom Mom’ like a scarlet letter – the teenager who gave birth on Prom night then allegedly killed her newborn after her date abandoned her for another girl. So Baltimore is the last place she wants to be, until circumstances draw her home. Could she have a second chance? Regardless, she really should avoid Joe, now a successful commercial real estate developer married to a plastic surgeon, but it’s a small city, and there still seems a strange connection between them. As the world plunges into uncertainty, Amber and Joe find themselves circling each other before crossing lines – but how much will Amber sacrifice?

Lippman lures readers in and takes us on a suspenseful ride that flows so smoothly it perhaps obscures her mastery. Like watching a talented musician onstage – or perhaps a special athlete on the field of play – Lippman makes things that are difficult look so deceptively easy that we perhaps underappreciate the brilliance on show. There’s a fluidity, flow, and ease; mastery at a high level. 

Prom Mom is another jewel in the crown of a modern-day Empress of the crime genre. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned writer, editor, podcast host, and event chair. He's the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, author of Macavity and HRF Keating Award-shortlisted non-fiction work SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, series editor of the DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER anthology, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.

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