I like to read. That rates a zero on the surprise scale, of course. Just about every single person who blogs likes to read. It’s pretty much a requirement.
That said, I’m not a snobby reader. I am finicky though. I only read crime novels.
Consequently I read a lot of thrillers. And less then half of them are any good. I’ve often blamed the genre for that, but that’s not fair. Especially since I follow some excellent book review blogs and like everybody else, I’ve got apps for that.
I could be, should be, knee deep in top of the line thrillers.
The problem is I’m a compulsive person. As such, I routinely get an overwhelming urge to buy a paperback whenever I pass the book rack in Walgreen’s or Publix. (Not to mention my problem passing up sushi and guacamole.)
Now I love Walgreen’s and Publix. I can’t imagine shopping for groceries, greeting cards and hair color anyplace else, but neither mercantile is very good for buying books. Unless you like romance, James Patterson and Stephen King.
In other words the selection sucks. (Come on paperback rack jobbers. You can do better.)
Normally I would have been skeptical as I delved into Sunburn, a 2018 bestseller noir from author Laura Lippman. Number one: I’ve never read a Lippman novel. Number two: I bought it at Publix.
But I remembered reading about Sunburn, that it was supposed to be good. And so I had, if not high hopes, moderately high ones that this book would be among the exceptions.
Plus, Sunburn is not a thriller; it’s a noir. Noirs are generally shorter than thrillers. Therefore if you don’t like the first chapter of a noir, chances are you’re not going to like it period. So there’s not a big investment in time. You can bail out and absolve yourself of disappointment with no more than a shrug.
And that’s a bit sardonic because that’s exactly what Lippman’s lead character Polly Costello does from from the git-go. She walks out on her husband and their three year old daughter while they are vacationing on the Delaware coast.
She’s not impressed with the accommodations–they are blocks away from the beach and the towels are scratchy–and less impressed with her husband’s ambition. He’s content to get by with a middling job and periodic handouts from his mother.
Polly jumps on a bus to put as many miles as possible between her and her obligations only to disembark a mere seventy or so miles down the road. The town is of the one horse variety, the kind you breeze through on the way to the beach without much thought. She walks into the local watering hole, makes small talk with the bartender and walks out with a job as a waitress.
It becomes rapidly obvious that Polly is fleeing more than an unhappy marriage and inconvenient motherhood. That she is, of course, running from her past–and with good reason. Polly is a murderer. She is also, of course, a bonafide femme fatale with all the necessary features, e.g., a good figure, stand offish persona, billowing red hair and the propensity to use sex as a weapon.
Enter Adam. He’s a traveling salesman of some sort with a lot of free time on his hands and a broke down truck.
And he’s handsome. Extremely handsome.
And that amuses me.
While Polly is an attractive protagonist, she is not beautiful. She’s alluring. Sexy in a way that Adam can’t quite put his finger on (aside from her near perfect figure, of course.)
Conversely–and I am not speculating on this--trust me–if Sunburn was written by…oh, I don’t know…Larry Lippman, Polly would have been drop dead gorgeous and Adam would have been a scruffy everyman with a mysterious sex appeal.
It is important that genre literature strokes us. That it soothes us. That it affirms us.
Us. We. Them.
But I digress.
Prospective paramour, Adam, decides to stick around the one horse town and takes a job as cook at the watering hole, where Polly waitresses. Slowly, but surely, he begins a relationship with her, finding out some of her secrets; namely that her murder victim was her first husband with whom she had a disabled child, also abandoned by her.
As their relationship progresses Adam finds out more. He discovers that Polly’s first husband was a sadistically abusive cop, up to his eyeballs in murder, and that some of his unscrupulous cohorts are trying to hunt her down. He discovers the details of her crime, that she ran a butcher’s knife through her husband’s heart as he slept.
Yet, despite his knowledge, Adam is so disabled by Polly’s sensuality that he stays. Even though he doesn’t like one horse towns and has a fashionable apartment in Baltimore– he stays. Even though he has the means to fix his truck and skedaddle–he stays. Even though he is so gorgeous that he could have his pick of equally gorgeous women with considerably less spine crushing baggage–he stays.
Even though he becomes more wary of the woman he shares his bed with and for his own safety. He stays.
Consider their–how shall we say it?–intimacy:
She drifts toward their bedroom, pale and cold as a ghost. Within five minutes, the set clicks off and he is in bed with her. They both play it savage tonight. She pulls his hair, bites him hard.
And there’s this:
He picks her up and carries her to the bed. She fights him, bites him and scratches. It’s shaming how much he likes this. They haven’t even kissed yet, and she’s drawn blood on him.
Geez? What’s the matter with this guy? A glutton for punishment perhaps?…
Or could it be that he is just a guy (albeit an extremely good looking guy) who seeks absolution from a woman who is qualified to give it to him?
If so, now we’re talking sexy..
Indeed. But what about the children? Her children? She abandoned them.
That’s not sexy…Not sexy at all.
Nope. That’s bad. Really bad. That’s despicable. What kind of a woman does that?…
Exactly. What kind of woman?
Sunburn has been out for over a year now, but it’s just now showing up on the paperback racks at Publix and Walgreen’s.