Sunburn is the latest standalone thriller from author Laura Lippman. It’s a story with a lot of surprising twists, but in many ways, it failed to hold my interest.
A woman calling herself Polly is just passing through the small, struggling town of Belleville, Delaware. Or at least, that’s what she wants people to think. The truth is, she’s looking fora place to lie low for a while, though the reasons for this aren’t initially clear to the reader. It’s obvious Polly is a woman with a lot of things to hide, but the author doesn’t give readers much in the way of details early on.
Also passing through town is a good-looking man named Adam. Polly catches his eye as she enjoys a cocktail at a local tavern, and he’s immediately drawn to her. At least, that’s what he wants her to think. In truth, Polly is the whole reason Adam is spending time in Belleville at all. He’s been on her trail for a while now, but, of course, the reader doesn’t fully understand his reasons for following her.
The two share drinks and conversation at the tavern, and before too long, they’ve both decide to stay in Belleville longer than they had originally planned. Adam gets a job as a cook at the tavern where they first met, and soon, Polly has been hired on there as well. These two can’t seem to get enough of each other, and even as they fall madly in love, neither feels able to reveal their secrets.
Then, bad things begin to happen, and they all point to Polly. Who is this secretive woman, and what has really brought her to Belleville? You’ll have to read the book to find out the answers to these, and many more questions.
I was initially quite intrigued by the set-up of this novel. I love characters who aren’t at all who they seem at first, and figuring out who they really are can be a lot of fun, which is what I was expecting when I started this novel. However, the story was far too convoluted for my liking. In these kinds of stories, the author usually sprinkles bits and pieces of the truth throughout, but that really doesn’t happen here. Bits of the truth are hinted at, but then the story goes off in a completely new direction before finally circling back to the original bit of truth. It made my head spin.
Both Polly and Adam are pretty awful people, which made it difficult for me to remain invested in the story. While I don’t necessarily have to like every character in a book, I do want to be able to relate to them on some level, and it was pretty much impossible to find anything relatable about these two. They lie, cheat, and manipulate at the drop of a hat, and though Ms. Lippman tries to come up with compelling reasons for their bad behavior, those reasons just don’t hold water. Some of them, especially when it comes to Adam, ended up feeling like excuses rather than honest explanations.
Sunburn is a pretty slow-moving novel. There is some action, but the build-up takes way too long, and the impact is pretty much lost. It might have worked better if Ms. Lippman hadn’t chosen to have her characters engage in very long, dramatic monologues at various points in the book. Obviously, I want to know what people are thinking, but the way in which she presents the thoughts of the various characters simply doesn’t work.
As I said above, there are a couple of really great twists that I in no way saw coming, but they weren’t enough to redeem the book. I’m sure Sunburn will appeal to many readers, especially those who enjoy books with a definite ‘noir-ish’ feel to them. For me, it ended up being unsatisfying and frustrating.