Review

Hardly Knew Her: Stories

by Laura Lippman

Dark, smart and violent, bestselling author Laura Lippman's
first collection of short stories have a fascinating and sinister
edge. HARDLY KNEW HER contains 16 tales and one novella, most told
from the perspective of desperate and depressed women who find
their sexuality to be both a liberating source of power and a
confining detriment.

Lippman is an accomplished mystery and crime writer, and the
stories here have her signature style, combining a journalistic
voice with a highly charged emotional intensity (not to mention a
scathing wit). In these selections there is usually a sad and
cynical outcome, and even though, a few stories in, the resolution
of each tale becomes familiar and predictable, each is entertaining
and well-written.

Two stories center on Lippman's well-known character, private
investigator Tess Monaghan. Another, as well as the novella,
revolves around a former street-walker turned madame and suburban
prostitute named Heloise. In “One True Love,” Heloise's
two lives collide when a john turns out to be the father of a boy
on her own son's soccer team. She must figure out how to protect
herself from the damage he could do to her legally, emotionally and
physically, and she especially must protect her young son Scott. In
“Scratch a Woman,” Heloise's conflict is with her
half-sister Meghan, an uptight and emotionally damaged suburban mom
whose attempted murder of her husband is witnessed by her dangerous
neighbor. In the Heloise portions of the book, we get a sense of
what brought the sisters to these sad points in their lives, but
the majority of the stories show us just acts of violence, and the
moments before and after them.

In “The Crack Cocaine Diet,” two young women try to
buy cocaine in order to lose weight but end up murderers; in
“Dear Penthouse Forum (A First Draft),” we meet a
unique type of killer and are treated to a story within a story. In
the title story, “Hardly Knew Her,” 16-year-old Sofia
wrests power from her abusive father, literally locking him out of
her life. The male characters here are most often victimizers
turned victim. One interesting exception is the young narrator of
“Black-Eyed Susan,” who is witness to the aftermath of
a murder. While in many ways here the characters are
one-dimensional and, for the most part, completely despicable, the
stories are entertaining and wickedly fun.

Lippman's world is not for the faint of heart: it is full of
prostitutes, handguns, unhappy marriages and blunt force trauma.
Even though the violence is often, and the sex almost always,
presented in a less than graphic manner, the acts are vivid; the
details are less important than the mood she successfully
creates.

By turns chilling, funny, heartbreaking and disturbing, HARDLY
KNEW HER is an excellent foray into crime fiction that will thrill
both Lippman fans and those who normally pass up on the genre.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

Hardly Knew Her: Stories
by Laura Lippman

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0061584991
  • ISBN-13: 9780061584992