4 of 17
304 pages
Noir would be nothing without the femme fatale, that feral enchantress who lures the hard-boiled hero to his doom. Of all the genre's stock characters, she's the most charged; the moral lightning rod around which the story galvanizes, crackles, and pops.
In the traditional midcentury noir, the femme fatale is a lethal siren, bored with marriage and uninterested in children and home life, who mates (for pleasure) and kills (for money), then burns the place down. A stand-in for the hero's (and society's) deep-seated fears about sexually liberated, independent women, she challenged gender roles and posed an existential threat to the world as it was. Her whole purpose was to titillate and be punished.
In Sunburn, crime fiction novelist Laura Lippman takes these misogynistic tropes, so ingrained in pop culture, and uses them to build a disorienting fun-house of mistrust and misapprehension for her two protagonists. A contemporary spin on such classics as Double Indemnity, Sunburn is a story about the unlikely frisson between a woman with a secret past (or several) and the P.I. sent to spy on her.
Polly Costello—or Pauline Hansen, Pauline Smith, or Pauline Ditmars—abandons spouse number two and daughter while on vacation, hitches a ride to a small Delaware town, and ends up slinging drinks at a dive bar. There, she meets a handsome, mysterious college-educated cook named Adam Bosk, who she's not supposed to realize has a whole other agenda. But Polly knows more than Adam thinks, and vice versa. The harder they fall, the less they trust each other. Fast-paced and unpredictable, Sunburn is a smart, sly riff on love in a world of trouble that's puzzling until the very last piece falls into place.
— Carina Chocano