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Book Author: Laura Lippman

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.