In 1973, a bank robber and his accomplice held four people
hostage in Stockholm, Sweden, and the bizarre incident inspired
Nils Bejerot, a psychiatrist and criminologist, to coin the term
“Stockholm syndrome” to describe the phenomena of
captives beginning to have positive and even caring feelings toward
their captors. It is a rich topic that has been well-mined in film
and literature. In her latest novel, Laura Lippman at once explores
Stockholm syndrome and turns it on its head.
I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE is the story of suburban wife and mother
Eliza Benedict. Back from years living abroad with her husband and
two children, Eliza is just settling back into life in the States
when she receives a letter that threatens to destroy her emotional
well-being. The letter is from Walter Bowman, who, when Eliza was
just 15 years old, kidnapped her, held her hostage for six weeks
and raped her before letting her go. Walter is on death row for the
murder of another girl, and though Eliza knows he still has the
power to damage and manipulate her, she gets drawn into a
correspondence with him.
Contact with Walter causes Eliza to relive the horrible summer
she was forced to spend with him driving around and camping
outdoors or staying in cheap motels, fearing for her life, missing
her family and being emotionally abused. The six weeks are
bookended by two murders: the one of the girl Eliza caught Walter
trying to bury, and the one she witnessed and was powerless to
prevent. Contact with Walter also opens the floodgate of guilt and
questions: Why did he bring her along on his run from the police,
and, most importantly, why did she live when the other girls died?
These questions have plagued her and tormented her over the years
and have been the source of pain for the family of Holly, the last
girl Walter killed. Holly's mother has long resented Eliza for her
life and for the role she imagines Eliza played in her daughter's
Now Walter wants to meet with Eliza face to face, and she must
confront her traumatic past in order to try to understand it. But,
as she moves closer and closer to this meeting, she feels the
emotional pull again as she felt it as a 15-year-old victim at the
mercy of a deranged killer who held her life in his hands.
I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE is an emotional thriller, and while lesser
writers would focus on the crimes themselves, Lippman takes the
story further and unpacks all the messy and complicated details of
not only the actual crimes, but also the resultant years that have
left Eliza to think about them and her role in the drama. Accused
of being an accomplice and Walter’s girlfriend, Eliza admits
she had several chances to run away and escape, but she did not.
And now she fears not only that her children will find out what
happened to her that summer (she changed her name), but also that
if she ignores Walter, she will never discover what she meant to
him. The relationship between victim and criminal here moves beyond
a simple understanding of Stockholm syndrome or any other textbook
definition. Lippman's characters are more emotionally nuanced,
complex and real than those found in an average crime novel.
The book is taut and fascinating, but that is what readers have
to come to expect of Lippman. It also shares with the rest of her
work her ability to see a particular crime as an intersection of
actual lives with serious social and psychological consequences.
Eliza Benedict and her family, and Walter Bowman and his victims
(and his creepy advocate and admirer), are interesting and
well-written, and thankfully not always easy to relate to or
comprehend. I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE is a piercing, frightening,
absorbing and well-paced read from one of the most intense literary
crime writers around.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011