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Book Author: Laura Lippman

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

Lady in the Lake is an absolutely wonderful book.  For me, its timing could not be more serendipitous–one of the mysteries I’m teaching this fall at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) is the first novel in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series, Baltimore Blues, and Lady in the Lake may be read as a prequel to the earlier novel as well as a stand-alone.

The book’s protagonist is Maddie Schwartz, a thirty-something upper-middle-class Jewish housewife in Baltimore; the time is 1966.  Married to a successful attorney, mother of a teenage son, she seems to have everything needed to enjoy her life.  But, as the Bob Dylan song so aptly put it two years before the books opens, the times they are a -changin’.

Maddie is experiencing a sense of unfullfilment, a sense that she should be doing more with her life than being the pretty wife and good mother she has been for nearly twenty years.  She leaves her husband and their son, who decides to stay with his father, and takes a tiny apartment in a not-so-savory part of the city.  And then she has to decide what she wants to do, or is able to do, with the rest of her life.  Her mantra is, She had to matter, she wanted to matter.

The novel is told in many voices, all brilliantly presented.  The main one is Maddie’s, and we learn her many secrets during the course of the book.  The second most frequent voice is that of Cleo Sherwood, a young “Negro” woman whose body is found in a city fountain.  She hadn’t been seen for weeks by her parents or at the bar/restaurant where she worked, but no one reported her missing until nearly two months had elapsed.  As Cleo asks herself, “…are you really missing if nobody misses you?”

But before Cleo’s body is found there is another missing person, an eleven-year-old white girl named Tessie Fine.  A search is started for her, and Maddie and a friend almost literally trip over her corpse.  This starts a new train of thought for her and sends her on the road to the Star’s newsroom.

Thus she begins her career as a reporter, although Maddie being Maddie, in her later life she erases the Star from her C.V. and lists her journalism beginnings at the more prestigious Beacon.  She was always a bit cavalier with the facts.

There are many, many personalities in Lady in the Lake, some of whom play an important role in the story, some who come into it for a brief mention in a chapter or two.  Regardless of the length of her/his appearance, every character’s voice is distinct and true.  In addition, the city itself is a major character in the book, with its neighborhoods explained, its streets explored, its synagogues and churches delineated.

Not surprisingly, Laura Lippman began her own career as a reporter in Baltimore for The Sun, working at the newspaper for twenty years.  She was still working there when she began writing the Tess Monaghan novels.  Over the years her novels have received Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, Shamus, Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Barry awards.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

AFTER I’M GONE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

After each book I read by Laura Lippman, I’m reminded why she’s one of my favorite authors.  After I’m Gone has only reinforced my feeling.

Some people have incredible charisma, and Felix Brewer was one of those.  Not especially good-looking, not college-educated, he nevertheless charmed everyone he met and was able to parlay this into life with a beautiful wife, three lovely daughters, a large house in Baltimore, and a significant presence in the city’s Jewish and philanthropic communities.  However, he always wanted more.

But somehow, in After I’m Gone, things have gone awry.  Felix is hiding in a horse van, hoping not to be stopped by the police, because he’s on his way out of the country to avoid a fifteen year prison sentence.  He’s with his mistress, Julie Saxony, but he has no intention of taking her with him, nor is he taking his wife and children.  It’s July 4, 1976.

Bambi, Felix’s wife, has known almost from the beginning of their life together that not everything Felix did was legal.  It wasn’t exactly illegal, or at least not all of it, but it was slippery.  “People will gossip.  But we’ll be so respectable–so rich–that no one will be able to afford to look down on us,”  he tells her.  Bambi deals with that, just as she deals with knowing that Felix is unfaithful, consoling herself with the thought that he loves her best. 

Sandy Sanchez is the instrument that will open up this thirty-five-year-old history.  He’s a former police detective in Baltimore, working as a consultant on cold cases for the force.  Going through some old files, he comes across a photo of Julie, Felix’s girlfriend at the time he disappeared.  Julie vanished ten years after Felix did, but her body was not discovered for another fifteen years.  Her murder has never been solved, so Sandy decides it’s worth a closer look.

In addition to following Sandy’s pursuit of Julie’s killer, over the years we are introduced to the oldest Brewer daughter, Linda, on the night of the 1980 presidential election; Rachel, the middle daughter, caught in an unhappy marriage with a cheating husband; and Michelle, the spoiled youngest child, who never knew her father and perhaps misses him the most.

And there’s the beautiful Bambi, still turning heads at forty, fifty, sixty.  Too proud to ever let friends know how dire her financial situation really is, she manages from month to month, holding her breath as the bills pile up. 

The lives of everyone in the book have been touched both by the presence of Felix Brewer and by his absence.  It’s fascinating to watch the dynamics so many years after he leaves.  It’s as if his energy and personality are still vibrating nearly four decades later.  It’s not simply that his family and friends are still missing him, although they are.  It’s also that their lives are so different than they would have been if he had not left. 

After I’m Gone joins all the other novels by Laura Lippman as a wonderful read.  The characters are real, as are their reactions to what is happening to them.  The plot is outstanding; more than simply a mystery, it is a narrative about how each person’s life impacts so many other lives.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

Not a traditional mystery, not exactly a thriller, I’d Know You Anywhere is a fascinating psychological study of the aftermath of a crime.  Laura Lippman, master storyteller in both the Tess Monaghan series and stand-alone novels, examines life “before and after” the kidnapping of a fifteen-year-old girl more than twenty years before the novel opens.

Elizabeth Benedict is walking along a country road when she comes across Walter Bowman, just a few years older than herself.  Within a couple of minutes he manages to drag her into his truck and drive off with her.  Elizabeth will turn out to be the only girl who survives Walter’s abductions.

All Walter wants is a girlfriend. He’s good-looking, muscular, has green eyes, but yet he can’t seem to attract any girl at all.  But he keeps trying.  He picks up girls on lonely roads, has a few minutes of conversation with them, realizes they’re not interested and are afraid of him, sexually assaults them, and kills them.  It’s not really his fault, he assures himself; if only one had agreed to be his girlfriend, his search would be over and he wouldn’t be forced to keep looking for others.

The novel opens as Eliza (the name she took after her abduction) and family return from several years in London–her husband, Peter; their teenage daughter; and their younger son.  It’s a typical American family living in the suburban Washington area, made even more typical by their visit to a local pound to get a dog.  But only Peter knows Eliza’s history.

Shortly after Eliza’s return to the States, she receives a letter that Walter has written. It’s been forwarded to her by a friend of his, Barbara LaFortuny, who is a vehement opponent of the death penalty.  Walter has been on Virginia’s death row for twenty-two years, a record in that twice he made it as far as the death house, only to receive last-minute reprieves.  Now with Barbara’s aid he reconnects with Eliza, first by writing to her and then by getting her to agree to be on his phone call list.  Walter has a powerful motive–as his only surviving victim, her help will be invaluable in commuting his death sentence once again.  He’s due to be electrocuted the following month, and this time it looks as if the sentence will be carried out–unless he can persuade Eliza to do his bidding.

The novel switches voices many times. First it’s the grown woman Eliza, then the twenty-something Walter, then the teenage Elizabeth, then Barbara, then the inmate Walter.  Adult Eliza would like to put this all behind her, as she has been successful in doing up to this point; teenage Walter wants some girl, blond, slim, and beautiful, to be his girlfriend; teenage Elizabeth wants to placate Walter in order to stay alive; Barbara wants to force Eliza to help commute Walter’s death sentence to life imprisonment; inmate Walter wants to live.

As always, Laura Lippman has written an outstanding novel. Has Eliza’s attempt to keep her past private colored her entire adult life?   Should she agree to be in contact with her kidnapper?  Has Walter ever understood the damage he did to her, as well as to the girls he killed?  Has Barbara’s own experience in being the victim of a crime given her insight into the justice system or simply moved her rigidity from her private life into a more public forum?  The novel asks these questions but leaves it up to the reader to answer them.  Or not.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at her web site.