What the Dead Know (Morrow)
It's definitely time to drop the qualifiers when discussing Lippman's work. For years, the former Sun reporter—thanks to her popular series of Tess Monaghan books—has been regarded as one of our finest mystery writers. And rightly so, because the Monaghan titles are characterized by nuanced character development within compelling, believable narratives. This latest book should vault Lippman beyond the mystery genre and into the mainstream of general fiction, where she rightly belongs. She is, after all, an excellent writer, period. What the Dead Know focuses on the disappearance of two young sisters who never return from a trip to Security Square Mall. Lippman crafts the story in a way that explores the emotional complexities of such a tragedy while building momentum in the process. Her precise language and journalistic attention to detail—references to the Pants Corral and songs such as the Carpenters "Superstar" will resonate with suburban readers of a certain age—dovetail in ways that effectively reinforce the plausibility of the story she's telling. Her knowledge of detective work and police culture doesn't hurt, either. So by the time she delivers a final plot twist, it's more inevitable than surprising. And that's when Lippman, the fiction writer, fully emerges.
I Love You, Beth Cooper (Ecco)
This is a coming-of-age novel with an edge one might expect from a guy who's written for Beavis & Butt-Head and The Simpsons. Doyle, who lives outside Baltimore, delivers an over-the-top tale that, if it were to be made into a film, would be a cross between Carrie and The Breakfast Club with elements of Dazed and Confused in the mix. Not to be taken too seriously, it bridges the chasm between a high school nerd and a popular cheerleader with anarchic, chaotic results. The book's charm is that it doesn't strive to be charming, as Doyle opts, instead, for something more exhilarating.