By: Michelle Richmond
Reviewed by: Anita Garner
Delacorte Press, 2008
Mobile native Michelle Richmond has already shown in her first three books that she can artfully cast a spell on readers, drawing them into her stories with subtleties of voice, style, nuance, and plot. From her prize-winning collection of short fiction (The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress) through her first two novels (Dream of the Blue Room and The Year of Fog), she has gained growth and maturity as a writer. Now with the latest novel No One You Know coming right on the heels of last year’s successful The Year of Fog, one might wonder if she has been able to sustain the pace. What Richmond has written is a perfectly paced novel that will appeal to many levels of readers.
The novel begins in Nicaragua where the narrator Ellie periodically is sent as a coffee buyer. Late one night as she is dining, Ellie has a chance encounter with the man accused of murdering her sister. Lila, the sister, had been a math genius at Stanford, the golden child. Her death shattered the dynamics of Ellie’s family, and for Ellie to run into the most likely suspect throws her into a quest to find out after all these years exactly what took place when Lila disappeared. Who was the unidentified person Lila had been seeing, and what light can Lila’s math notebook shed on this equation?
What makes this plot more than just the average summer read is the characters, such as Ellie herself whose sensory levels and descriptions of coffee are in themselves ample reason to keep reading. And perhaps one of the most believable villains in quite a while—Andrew Thorpe, the Tuscaloosa native who is Ellie’s college English instructor and who plies Ellie with friendship after her sister’s murder in order to milk her for inside details so that he can exploit her family and write a best-selling book about the tragedy. Thorpe is the poster child for sleazy publishing ethics. The fact that he is still stalking Ellie and her family after all these years just adds to his creepiness and the novel’s suspense.
In short, this novel hits all the right buttons—incredible olfactory descriptions of coffee, a trustworthy narrator, great villain, suspenseful plot, fear of math. Until you have finished reading this book, guard it carefully. If you leave it lying around, someone will pick it up, start reading, and never put it down until the end.
Anita Garner writes and teaches creative writing in Florence.