With her latest books, Lutz is deep in thriller territory, and she writes like she’s happy to be there.
Best known for her wry series of mysteries starring the San Francisco–based Spellman family (imagine if Seymour Glass and his parents and siblings opened a private investigation service), last year Lutz veered toward straight fiction with How to Start a Fire, a richly plotted tale of the relationships among four college friends. In this new book, the protagonist, who's known as Tanya when we meet her, comes home to a dead husband (not her fault, really, he fell down the stairs) and decides her best option is to run. Different names see her through different lives, though she's always trying to escape both Tanya and an identity even further back in her past, which is cleverly revealed through a series of emails with someone who really knew, and loved, her. Meanwhile, in order to secure a new identity after Tanya is wanted in connection with her husband’s death, she calls on a man who was involved in that past. He sends some money, a new birth certificate, and a couple of thugs to kill her. Complicating things further is a woman she meets called Blue, who's also on the run but seems to have something on our protagonist. Lutz’s pacing is excellent, and the interior monologue captures what it would be like not to have a name or, even worse, a valid ID.
Lutz provides some great suggestions for going on the lam (a lot of hair dye and car switching is involved), but at its core, this is a novel about identity: a slippery notion which depends upon both how the world sees us and how we see ourselves.