Laura Lippman's sharp and timely thriller 'Dream Girl' sticks the landing

Emily Gray Tedrowe
Special to USA TODAY

All hail the suspense novel that sticks the landing! 

Laura Lippman, author of "Lady in the Lake" and the popular Tess Monaghan series, returns with a standalone psychological thriller, "Dream Girl" (William Morrow, 320 pp., 3.5 stars), that manages an all-too-rare feat for the genre: a satisfying conclusion. 

Gerry Anderson is an uber successful novelist who has racked up big sales and multiple marriages (and their subsequent divorces) over the course of his career. He also has a past full of indiscretions with women and not a few people he’s hurt or betrayed. When Gerry moves to Baltimore to nurse his mother through her final illness, he has a terrible accident in his swanky condo and is bed-ridden for weeks. Juggling multiple caregivers, a trayful of pain meds and a long swath of boredom, Gerry is unsettled when he begins to receive anonymous calls from someone who claims to be the real inspiration for his bestseller," Dream Girl."

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"Dream Girl," by Laura Lippman.

Sound familiar?  Lippman knows, and her novel cheekily acknowledges Stephen King’s "Misery" as both echo and jumping-off point. The modern twist is Gerry’s age and status as a privileged white man whose casual sexism is revealed in prior actions and through his objectifying thoughts. As Gerry drifts in an opiate haze, he revisits scenes from his past, including his father’s abandonment, his few friends from college and moments when he diminished or took advantage of female students. But are these menacing phone calls real, or figments from a troubled brain? And why does one of his disgruntled ex-wives insist on showing up unexpectedly?

Lippman delights in rendering a bookish snob whose allusions include references from John D. MacDonald to Congreve to Fitzgerald, and the richness of these many book and movie titles adds a welcome layer of complexity to Gerry, whose love for teaching these stories shines through. He even takes on the unusual project of helping his part-time nurse and assistant, Aileen, write her own first novel. “All fiction is appropriated from the lives of others,” Aileen informs her bed-bound mentor, who isn’t sure he agrees. “So it’s better to be transparent about it.” 

Author Laura Lippman.

At times, "Dream Girl" suffers from its back-and-forth chronological structure, where some chapters set in Gerry’s past seemingly have little to do with his present. But as violence intrudes and secrets are revealed, the novel picks up pace as it approaches its last enjoyable pages. 

Lippman’s sharp and timely thriller is a fast read, one that will surely please her many longtime devotees as well as attract new and enthusiastic fans. 

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