For me, life was a house that I passed through quietly, trying not to unsettle the dust or bump up against the furniture. Henry was just the opposite; he moved through life with his hands outstretched, picking everything up and measuring its weight in his hands, knocking on walls to test their strength. [pg 116]
No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
Delacorte Press, 2008
Fiction; 306 pgs
I imagine Ellie would be dismayed to learn that I do not like the taste of coffee. I do not even care for mocha ice cream. But, oh, do I love the smell of a fresh pot of coffee, especially in the morning!
Ellie Enderlin has the perfect nose for coffee. She had never set out to become a coffee buyer, but it is a career well suited to her. She can pick out the individual scents and flavors of varying coffee types and knows a good coffee bean when she comes across it. During her most recent business trip to Nicaragua, Ellie runs into a person from her past, a person she never expected to see again.
Nearly twenty years before, Ellie’s older sister Lila was murdered, her body discovered in the woods days after Lila had disappeared. Lila was the golden child of the family, the math genius. Ellie always felt she was living in her sister’s shadow, never quite living up to her parents’ expectations. Lila was extraordinary. Ellie felt ordinary, even after Lila’s death. Ellie and her sister could not have been more different, one finding comfort in numbers and the other in books. Where Ellie was more social, her sister seemed to prefer solitude. Still, the two young women loved each other very much and shared a bond that only two sisters could share. Lila’s death was devastating to her family. She left behind a gaping hole that could never be filled.
Upon her sister’s death, Ellie turned to her professor as a confidante, leaning on his shoulder for support. She trusted him with her inner most thoughts only to have him turn her family’s tragedy into a bestselling spectacle. He went so far as to name the man he believed was behind the death of Lila in his book, something even the police could not do.
It was the man accused of Lila’s murder that approached Ellie in the out of the way Nicaraguan restaurant late one night. What he told her would change Ellie’s life view irrevocably. Everything she came to believe to be true was suddenly in question. Was it possible that this man, Peter McConnell, really was innocent of her sister’s murder? Ellie is suddenly determined to learn the truth, and, in the process, she learns much about not only her sister, but herself as well.
No One You Know is an amazing novel. Simple as that. Michelle Richmond has created characters that are complex and deep. Ellie’s issues with trust are multi-layered. She always believed her sister was murdered by someone her sister trusted and loved. How then could she trust those close to her? And then to be betrayed by a close friend when her confidante wrote a book about her family’s tragedy against her wishes. Is it any wonder then that Ellie has problems with trust—and love? Then there is Lila, who even in death is wholly alive in the novel. The more Ellie learns about her sister, the less perfect Lila seems, and the more equal the two sisters become.
There are the other major players in the book. Andrew Thorpe, former professor, now bestselling author. He charmed his way into Ellie’s life and while he may have truly believed he was a good friend to Ellie, his motivations and actions said otherwise. Peter McConnell, Lila’s math partner and the man Thorpe accused of having murdered Lila had fled the country, driven out away from his family because of the accusations being leveled at him. His entire life was ruined, and yet he had found some sort of peace in his new life, surviving as best he could. I cannot leave out mention of Henry, Ellie's ex-boyfriend. She gave more of herself to him than she had to most others in her life, and yet she still held back. There are other characters as well that stand out. Each one having a distinct purpose in the novel.
“’ . . . in order for a book to be really good, it’s not enough to develop the major characters. The minor ones, too, have to be distinct. When readers close the book, they shouldn’t just remember the protagonist and antagonist. They should remember everyone who walks across the pages.’” [pgs 268-269]
San Francisco is a beautiful city and proved to be the perfect setting for the majority of No One You Know. I have a special fondness for the city myself and could relate to Ellie’s admiration and love for it. The author paints San Francisco just as it is, both in its glory and its haze, which fits the story all the more.
One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the balance between mathematics and the elements that make a good story. Two aspects that might seem very different on the surface, and yet share a lot in common. On one hand the author would offer a mathematical conjecture and how it may come to be proven, while on the other, she would describe how a story is shaped and formed. It is an overreaching theme that fit well with the discovery of truth in Lila’s death, the building of a proof to make an absolute, the forming of a story with a beginning, middle and end. For me, it was also an extension of Lila and Ellie, their differences and their similarities.
The true crime book aspect of the novel provided a lot of food for thought. It felt like Andrew Thorpe had taken advantage of his friendship with Ellie, and exploited her family's tragedy. Not only that, but it also had resounding repercussions on Peter McConnell and his family. There are many viewpoints out there about true crime, including whether it is pure sensationalism or provides a valuable truth. I am not sure even now where I stand. I think that it can be either/or and some of both.
My favorite quote is actually the final two sentences of the book, which I have decided not to share here. And while neither contains a spoiler, part of their power comes from reading them in context. As I read those lines, I found myself nodding in complete agreement. It was the perfect wrap up for this wonderful book.
I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. The characterizations, the setting, the story, and the language drew me in so completely. There was no one aspect of the novel I did not like. No One You Know is a novel that will appeal to mystery lovers as well as those who prefer contemporary fiction. While the mystery plays center stage, it is the growth and development of the characters that are really what this novel is about. It’s a combination that I find irresistible and I hope you will too.
Be sure and stayed tuned! Author Michelle Richmond has graciously agreed to appear on Musings of a Bookish Kitty as a guest in the near future, and there may just be a book giveaway to boot!
For more information about the author and her books, including an excerpt from No One You Know, please visit Michelle Richmond's website.
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