Book talk: “No One You Know,” by Michelle Richmond

(Disclaimer: This review was based on an Advance Reading Copy [ARC] provided directly to me by the author.)

No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
No One You Know
Michelle Richmond
Delacorte Press, 2008, hardcover (ISBN 0385340133 / 9780385340137)
Fiction, 320 pages

First sentence: When I found him at last, I had long ago given up the search.

Book Description: No One You Know is the story of Ellie Enderlin, a woman who has spent the last two decades trying to rebuild her life after her sister’s murder. Lila was a top math student at Stanford when her life was abruptly cut short. Though the crime was never solved, one of Ellie’s professors turned the tragedy into a bestseller. The book was rife with speculations that devastated many lives and ruined the career of Peter McConnell, a brilliant mathematician who had been Lila’s lover. Reunited with Peter while traveling in Nicaragua, Ellie must confront many truths about the sister she cherished but never really knew.

Comments: This review is based on an ARC I received from the author. Michelle Richmond found my blog through my review of her previous novel, The Year of Fog, and contributed a guest post here in June. The ARC is autographed with the message “Hope you enjoy this story of the proverbial 3 R’s!” That’s the traditional three R’s, of course, in which the last one is “‘rithmetic,” and they do capture the essence of this book.

Ellie Enderlin’s adult life has been primarily defined by two things: the violent death of her older sister Lila, a gifted grad student in higher mathematics, twenty years earlier, and her unwitting cooperation with the writer who turned the story of that death into a true-crime bestseller – “unwitting” because she didn’t realize that her conversations with the writing professor who befriended her were serving as source material for the book he was planning. Her role in the book has given Ellie an unusual form of “survivor guilt,” something she has in common with Abby Mason, the protagonist of Richmond’s earlier novel.

Unlike Abby, though, Ellie really hasn’t done much with that guilt except live with it until an unexpected encounter during a business trip to Nicaragua makes her realize that she has unquestioningly accepted writer Andrew Thorpe’s story of her sister’s death all this time, and maybe she should have questioned it…and so she does, even though it’s officially a “cold case,” long since officially closed. Her investigations bring her back into contact with Thorpe, and she uncomfortably discovers he’s all too happy to renew their acquaintance. What she learns not only makes her re-evaluate what happened to Lila, but it also makes her re-consider her sister and their relationship.

This is in many ways a story about a story, and I really like the way Richmond tells it. There’s a fascinating mystery at the center of the book, but the character development is never sacrificed to the plot; Ellie is sympathetic and engaging, and the story’s development is both plausible and emotionally real. The storytelling is more concise and focused than The Year of Fog, and the mystery aspects are a bit more compelling here, but there are similarities between the two books, particularly in the importance given to the main characters’ relationships with other women in their lives – sisters, mothers, daughters; they don’t revolve around men, although there are some engaging male characters too. One such character in No One You Know is actually not Richmond’s invention, though – writer/radio personality Ben Fong-Torres plays an important minor role. Richmond herself makes a cameo in chapter 29 (page 195 of the ARC).

This was my first experience with an ARC, and some of the proofreading errors got on my nerves – I assume they were corrected prior to the official printing, though. However, they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of this well-paced, involving drama, and No One You Know officially puts Michelle Richmond on my “must-read authors” list for the future.

Rating: 4/5

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  1. Oooh, this sounds so good, I just ordered it from Amazon. I have a feeling you’re going to be bad for my pocketbook Miss Florinda! I’ll have to throw it on my ever-growing pile of unread books.

    This is one reason I try not to visit book-related blogs and sites. . .I simply cannot control myself.

    Thanks for the tip, though!

  2. I’ve not heard of this author, but the book sounds really good. Nice review! I’ll have to look this one up.

  3. Sounds fascinating! I used to keep a wish list of books – until I started spending too much on them! this one would go on the lsit.

  4. Karen – Hope you ordered The Year of Fog too, while you were at it :-). They’re both among the best books I’ve read this year.

    Maybe you’d better stay away from the “for the books” section of my blogroll…

    April – It’s getting easier to write book reviews, but sometimes it depends on the book itself.

    Bobbi – This is only her second novel; she published some short fiction before her first one came out. She’s my best author find this year.

    Daisy – It was intriguing and well-written. Your library might have it. Believe me, I understand spending too much on books :-)!

  5. Ever since your review of Year of Fog and the author’s visit to your blog, I’ve had eye on this book. One of my coworkers is reading it right now and highly recommends it as well. I am glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Thanks for pointing out the cameo! Apparently there’s some other element of overlap between the two stories, although since I haven’t read the first book yet, I didn’t notice it.

    I just reviewed the book (and linked to your review) here.

  7. Avisannchild – Apparently that second overlap got by me too :-). I’m editing this post to add your review; thanks for stopping by!

  8. About the second overlap, did you read Michelle’s guest post over at 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started? (I linked to the post in my review.) Michelle mentions another overlap in that post.