No One You Know

No One You Know

by Michelle Richmond


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No One You Know by Michelle Richmond

All her life Ellie Enderlin had been known as Lila’s sister—until the day Lila, a top math student at Stanford, was murdered, and the shape of their family changed forever. Twenty years later, Ellie is a professional coffee buyer who has never put down roots. When, in a chance meeting, she comes into possession of the notebook that Lila carried everywhere, Ellie returns home to finally discover the truth about her sister’s death—a search that will lead her to Lila’s secret lover, to the motives and fate of a man who profited from their family’s grief, and ultimately to the deepest secrets even sisters keep from each other.

From the bestselling author of The Year of Fog (“Highly recommended [for fans of] authors like Jodi Picoult and Jacquelyn Mitchard.”Library Journal [starred review]), this is a riveting family drama about loss, love, and the way hope redefines our lives—a novel at once heartbreaking, provocative, and impossible to put down.

Praise for No One You Know

“Michelle Richmond’s encore to The Year of Fog is an equally addictive read.”Denver Post

“Richmond sets out to create not a straight-up thriller, but a novel that explores love, family, work, guilt and the responsibility of the writer to his or her subject, all within the framework of a murder mystery.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Michelle Richmond never strikes a false note in No One You Know. . . . It's an intelligent, emotionally convincing tale about a family tragedy and the process of storytelling.”Boston Globe

“As complex and beautiful as a mathematical proof, this gripping, thought-provoking novel will keep you thinking long after the last page has been turned.”Family Circle

"Beautifully written"Seattle Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385340144
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/19/2009
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 799,998
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Michelle Richmond is the author of The Year of Fog, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Michelle lives with her husband and son in San Francisco, where she is at work on her next novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

 When I found him at last, I had long ago given up the search. It was late at night, and I was dining alone in a small cafe in Diriomo, Nicaragua. It was a place I had come to cherish during my annual visits to the village, the kind of establishment where one could order a plate of beans and a cup of coffee any time of the day or night.

I had spent the evening wandering the dark, empty streets. July days in Diriomo were scorching; come nightfall, the buildings seemed to radiate heat, so that the air possessed a baked, dusty scent. Eventually I came to the familiar intersection. Going left would lead to my hotel, with its hard bed and uncooperative ceiling fan. Straight ahead was a baseball diamond where I had once seen a local kid beat a rat to death with an old wooden bat. To the right was a wide road giving way to a crooked alleyway, at the end of which the cafe beckoned.

Some time past midnight, I stood on the doorstep, ringing the little copper bell. Maria appeared, dressed in a long blue skirt, white blouse, and no shoes, looking as though she'd been expecting me.

"Did I wake you?"

"No," she said. "Welcome."

It was a ritual greeting between us. I had no way of knowing whether Maria was actually asleep on those nights, or whether she was sitting patiently in her kitchen, waiting for customers.

"What are you serving tonight?" I asked. This was also ritual, for we both knew that the menu never changed, no matter the time or season.

"Nacatamal," she said. "Esta usted sola?"

"S’, se–ora, I am alone." My answer, like the menu, had remained unaltered for years. And yet she asked it, each time, with a kind of naked hope, as if she believed that one day my luck might change.

The cafe was empty and dark, somehow cool despite the heat outside. She pointed to a small table where a candle burned in a jar. I thanked her and sat down. I could hear her preparing coffee in the kitchen, which was separated from the dining area by a narrow doorway in which hung a curtain of red fabric. I watched the patterns made by the candlelight on the far wall. The images seemed too lovely and symmetrical to be random—a bird, a sailboat, a star, followed by a series of rectangular bars of light. It was a feeling I often had in that town, and one of the reasons I kept returning when my work as a coffee buyer brought me to Nicaragua—a feeling that even the simplest natural acts were somehow ordered, as if some unnamed discipline reigned over both the animate and inanimate. I rarely felt this way at home in San Francisco. It was no wonder the locals referred to Diriomo as pueblo brujo—bewitched village.

Maria had just set my plate on the table when the bell clanged outside. Together we looked toward the door, as if something miraculous might materialize. In all the times I had taken a midnight meal among the porcelain dolls and carnivorous plants in Maria's cafe, I'd rarely met another customer.

Maria went to the door and opened it a crack. For a moment my table was flooded with moonlight.

"Buenas noches, Maria," a man's voice said.

"Buenas noches."

The door closed, plunging the room once again into near darkness.

The man passed by my table. His face was turned away, but in the pale light from the kitchen I observed that he carried himself in the way very tall men often do, shoulders slumped in a sort of apology for taking up so much space. He wore a baseball cap pulled low on the forehead. A hardback book was tucked under one arm. He went to a table in the corner, the one farthest from my own. When he sat down, his back to me, the wooden chair creaked so violently I thought it might break.

Maria took a match out of her apron pocket, struck it against the wall, and dipped the flame into a crimson jar on the man's table. Only after she had retreated into the kitchen to fetch his coffee did he turn around and glance at me from beneath the brim of his hat. In the flickering red candlelight only his slightly jutting chin was visible, the rest of his face receding into shadows.

"Hello," I said.

"Good evening."

"You're American," I said, surprised. Foreigners were scarce in Diriomo. Encountering a fellow American at this particular cafe in the middle of the night was utterly strange.

"I am," he said.

He gave a polite wave of the hand before leaning over the table and peering into his book. He held the candle above the page, and I considered warning him it was bad for his eyes to read in the darkness. He seemed like the kind of man who needed to be told these things, the kind of man who ought to have someone taking care of him. Soon Maria brought him coffee. Something about the way he lifted his cup, the way he turned the pages of his book, even the way he tilted his head toward Maria in silent thanks when she brought him a napkin and a bowl of sugar cubes, struck me as familiar. I watched him closely, wondering if the feeling that I knew him was simply an illusion brought about by my having been traveling alone for too long. The longer I sat there, however, the more I became convinced that it was not the vague familiarity of one countryman to another, but something more personal.

While he drank his coffee and read his book, seemingly oblivious to me, I tried to recall the context in which I might have known him. I sensed, more than knew, that it had been a long time ago, and that there had been some degree of intimacy between us; this sensation of intimacy coupled with my inability to remember was completely unsettling. The thought crossed my mind that I might have slept with him. There had been a period following my sister's death when I slept with many men. This was a long time ago, though, so long that now it almost seemed like a different life.

Maria brought my food. I waited for the steaming plantain leaves to cool before peeling them away, picking up the nacatamal, and biting in. Back home, I had tried several times to replicate Maria's combination of pork, rice, potatoes, mint leaves, raisins, and spices, but it never came out right. When I tried to tease the recipe out of her, she just laughed and pretended not to understand my request.

"You should try these," I said to the man between bites.

"Oh, I know Maria's nacatamal," he said, glancing my way once again. "Delicious, but I already ate."

What could he be doing here so late at night, I wondered, if he had already had his supper? In Diriomo, men did not sit alone in cafes reading books, even American men. A few minutes later, when I took my wallet out to pay, he closed his book and stared at the cover for a few seconds, as if to gather courage, before standing and walking over to my table. Maria watched us shamelessly from the doorway of the kitchen. The red curtain was pulled aside, filling the room with soft light. For a moment it occurred to me that perhaps Maria had set this whole thing up for my benefit, perhaps she was trying to pull off a bit of matchmaking.

The man removed his baseball cap and held it in both hands. His shaggy hair grazed the low ceiling, gathering static. "Pardon me," he said. Now I could see his face completely—the large dark eyes and wide mouth, the high cheekbones and prominent chin, covered with stubble—and I knew at once who he was.

I had not seen him in eighteen years. There had been a period of several months in college when I thought of him constantly. I had watched for his name in the paper, had performed drive-bys of his ground-floor flat in Russian Hill, had taken lunch at a certain small Italian restaurant in North Beach that he frequented, despite the fact that the menu stretched my student budget beyond its limits. At that time I suspected that if I shadowed him without ceasing I could begin to understand something—maybe not the thing he had done, but the mechanism by which he had been able to do it. That mechanism, I was certain, was a psychological abnormality; some moral tuning fork that was present in others was absent in him.

Then, one afternoon in August of 1991, he vanished. That day I walked into the restaurant in North Beach at half past noon, as I had been doing every week for three months. Immediately my eyes went to a table in the corner, above which hung a miniature oil painting of the Cathedral Duomo of Milan. It was where he always sat, a table that seemed to be reserved specifically for him. He always arrived on Monday at a quarter past noon, and after sitting down would place a notebook on the table to the right of his bread plate. He rarely bothered to glance up at his surroundings as he scribbled furiously in the notebook with a mechanical pencil. He would pause only to order spaghetti with prawns in marinara sauce, which he ate quickly, followed by an espresso, which he drank slowly. The whole time, he worked, scribbling with his right hand and eating with his left. But that day in August, he wasn't there. Immediately I sensed something had changed. I dipped my bread in olive oil and waited. By the time the waiter brought my salad, I knew he wasn't coming. At one-fifteen I called in sick to the University of San Francisco library, where I held a work-study position, and took the bus to Russian Hill. There was a For Rent sign in front of his flat, and the shutters were open. Through the large windows I could see the place was stripped clean, all of the furniture gone. It occurred to me that I might never see him again.

Chapter Two

A story has no beginning or end," my sophomore English professor used to say. "Arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead." It was a motto that Andrew Thorpe managed to work into every session of class, no matter what book we were discussing. One could almost anticipate the moment he was going to say it, as the statement was always preceded by a lengthy pause, a lifting of his eyebrows, a quick intake of breath.

I would choose a Wednesday in December 1989. Again and again, poring over the details, I would choose that day, and it would become the touchstone from which all other events unfurled, the moment by which I judged the two parts of my life: the years with Lila, and those without her.

On that morning I was in the kitchen, listening to Jimmy Cliff on the radio and waiting for the coffee to brew. Our parents had already left for work. Lila came downstairs, dressed in a ruffled black blouse, green corduroy skirt, and Converse high-tops. Her eyes were red, and I was startled to realize she'd been crying. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen Lila cry.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's just been a stressful week." She gave a little wave of her hand as if to dismiss the whole thing outright. She was wearing a ring I'd never seen before, a delicate gold band with a small black stone.

"Dance with me," I said, attempting to cheer her up. I grabbed her hand and tried to twirl her around, but she pulled away.

The coffeemaker beeped. I turned down the radio and poured her a cup. "Is this about him?" I asked.

"About who?"

"It is, isn't it? Come on. Talk to me."

She was looking out the kitchen window, at a small limb that had fallen onto our deck the previous week during a rainstorm. Only later, as I replayed the events of those days, would it seem strange that none of us had bothered to remove the fallen limb from the deck.

"How long has that been there?" Lila asked.

"A while."

"We should take care of it."

"We should."

But neither of us made a move toward the kitchen door.

"Tell me his name," I said finally. "I know guys on the basketball team. I'll have his face rearranged." I was only half joking.

Lila didn't respond; it was as if she hadn't heard me at all. I had learned long before not to be offended by her silences. Once, when I accused her of ignoring me, she had explained, "It's like I'm wandering through a house, and I happen to step into another room, and the door shuts behind me. I get involved in what's going on in that room, and everything else sort of vanishes."

I reached across the counter and touched her hand to summon her back. "Nice ring. Is it opal?"

She slid her hand into her pocket. "It's just a trinket."

"Where did you get it?"

She shrugged. "I don't remember."

Lila never bought jewelry for herself. The ring must have been a gift from him, whoever he was. The very thought of a romantic entanglement was new to Lila. She hadn't had more than half a dozen dates in high school and college combined. Throughout those years, my mother was fond of saying that boys didn't know how to appreciate a girl of such exceptional intelligence, but I suspected my mother had it all wrong. Boys were interested in Lila; she simply had no use for them. During my freshman year of high school, when Lila was a senior, I'd seen the way guys looked at her. I was the one they talked to, the one they invited to parties and asked on dates, the fun and freewheeling sister who could be counted on to organize group outings and play elaborate pranks on the teachers, but Lila was far from invisible. With her long dark hair, her general aloofness, her weird sense of humor, her passion for math, she was, I imagined, intimidating to boys in a way I would never be. When she walked down the hallway, alone and deep in thought, clad in the eccentric clothes she made on my mom's old Singer sewing machine, she must have seemed completely inapproachable. Although boys didn't talk to her, it was clear to me that they saw her. I was well-liked, but Lila had mystery.

Even after she had graduated from UC Berkeley and started the Ph.D. program in pure mathematics at Stanford, Lila was perfectly content living in her old bedroom, eating dinner with the family most nights, watching rented movies with Mom and Dad on weekends while I was out with my friends. Lately, though, she had begun going out several evenings each week, coming home after midnight with a smile on her face. When I tried to get her to tell me who she was with, she would say, "Just a friend."

Reading Group Guide

1. How did Ellie’s storytelling voice enhance your reading? How might the novel have unfolded if it had been told from Peter McConnell’s point of view, or even Lila’s?

 2. The title No One You Know captures the quest to find Lila’s killer, but it also describes the secrets Lila kept from Ellie. Discuss the relationship between the sisters. In what ways did they know each other well? In what ways were they different? In your family, do siblings tend to be close or distant? 

3. How did your opinion of Andrew Thorpe and Peter McConnell shift throughout the novel? When did you trust each of them the most and the least? 

4. Why was Lila drawn to mathematics? What did it mean to her? What life philosophies did it provide? How did she fit into a community of mostly male math scholars? 

5. What lay at the heart of Henry’s breakup with Ellie? How were Ellie’s other relationships affected by her sister, even when they were teenagers? 

6. Were Thorpe’s books inappropriate? What is the nature of true crime books? Do they sensationalize and fabricate, or can they reveal important truths? 

7. Chapter Ten describes the distinctions between conjecture and proof. How did these concepts, along with the quotation from Pascal at the beginning of the novel, echo throughout Lila’s story? What did the Goldbach Conjecture represent to Lila and Peter? How might the word “proof” carry a different meaning to a mathematician than to a “regular” person? 8. At the end of Chapter Twenty-nine, Ellie says that she had always thought of her sister as blameless. Was Lila blameless in her affair with Peter? 

9. Discuss Billy Boudreaux and his music. Ultimately, who was he, and how did he perceive himself? What were his greatest strengths and vulnerabilities? 

10. In what ways did the coffee trade give Ellie a soothing way to escape the tragedies of her life? Why was she so well suited for the cupping process? 

11. How do the landscapes of Central America and San Francisco affect the tone and mood of the novel? What aspects of Ellie’s personality are captured in both locales? 

 12. Which character did you most suspect of being Lila’s killer? When the truth about her death was revealed, how did you react? How was Ellie’s family affected by so many years of not knowing? Would her parents have stayed together if they had not been forced to live in the shadow of the unknown? 

13. What did you think of Thorpe’s advice about how to tell a good story? In what ways does Michelle Richmond defy Thorpe’s approach? What is meant by the novel’s closing lines, asserting that stories belong to listeners and authors in equal measure? 

14. Both this novel and Richmond’s The Year of Fog portray families coping with tragedy. How is San Francisco used as a character in each novel? How does Richmond use mystery and the unknown to portray a character’s strength and grace? 


Weaving an intricate family drama with a web of mystery and fate, the New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog returns with another mesmerizing novel. By turns spellbinding and tender, 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.

A novel of profound beauty and page-turning intrigue, No One You Know showcases the storytelling power of a rising star. The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Michelle Richmond’s No One You Know. We hope they will enrich your experience of this gripping novel.

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No One You Know 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
DEVILICIOUS More than 1 year ago
This story is basically about how little twists of fate can alter our life stories. Ellie's life has been shaped by her genius sister, Lila's unsolved murder. A significant part of Ellie's story is her past and present relationship with Andrew Thorpe, a teacher and "friend" who published a book about Ellie's sister's murder, which launched a career in true crime fiction. It is also a story of betrayal, secrets and, finally, a peaceful resolution. This tale is much more than a crime novel, not just the life of the murdered girl, but the sister left behind, whose own connections with her sister were severed by another person's actions and untruths. A lot to contemplate and a great story to hold your interest!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read the author's book 'The Year of Fog' and loved it, so went on to this one. I enjoyed the book, it was a great read/mystery in some ways, but a little heavy on the history of mathematicians. I understand it was important to the story, but still, I skimmed those parts. Enjoyable otherwise!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Toward the end of this incredibly moving literary mystery, the storyteller¿and Ellie is a storyteller narrator is far too sterile a word for what is going on here¿comes to the realization that stories aren¿t set in stone. I don¿t know if that is a universal truth, provable to the irrefutable certainty demanded by the mathematician characters in No One You Know, but it is clearly true about the story told in these wonderful pages. This story is set in something far richer: fertile literary soil that is at times dark, at times funny, at times heartbreaking, and, at every step, lyrical. I¿ve been a been reader of literary fiction for more years than I care to admit, and a reader of mysteries for even longer than that, and still no novel comes to mind that, for me, combines the best of both these worlds so elegantly. In this novel of stories told and received, retold and unwound, Ellie¿s search for the truth about the unsolved murder of Lila, her brilliant mathematician sister, is a lovely study of passion, family, loss, and love. It left me thinking about so many things: How we love and why we fear loving. How we define ourselves and those around us, or leave those tasks to others. How important passion is to the work we choose to do. How often untruths told with confidence are received as truths, and how difficult it is to peel back the edges to get a peek behind widely accepted untruths. How much damage we sometimes do to others when we are over-focused on ourselves. No One You Know is a book I will be putting in the hands of every intelligent reader I know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book - connected well with the characters. The one thing that kept me from rating 5 stars is all of the detail about her mathematical equations. It didn't interest me in the least to get that much detail about that. I was more interested in the story.
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Ravenight More than 1 year ago
Not particularly bad... but the reader seems removed from the story. The story was very linear and everything felt very topical... sort of skin deep, no substance. Fine for casual reading but not very engrossing.
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