About The Book
In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.
Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.
Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.
Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.
Last year I read Sunburn by Laura Lippman and quickly realised that I was reading something very special. I absolutely adored it and when I realised that a new book was on the way I was over the moon. Lady In The Lake is set in 1960s Baltimore and features Maddie Schwartz, a woman in her late 30s who, after nearly 20 years of marriage has left her husband to start her life afresh.
There is a wonderful historical aspect to the novel and it provides a social commentary of 1960s America. Laura Lippman has an impeccable eye for detail with the cut of a dress and the style of a woman’s hair telling us more about her social standing than a sneak peak at her bank balance would. She builds a world where women are vessels in which children are carried, there to keep a house running smoothly, to entertain their husband’s guests, throw a dinner party at a moment’s notice and to not get ideas above their station. But when somebody Maddie went to to school with comes to dinner it reminds Maddie of the person she used to be and the dreams she used to have. Suddenly, the prospect of decades of being the good little housewife seems like something she cannot do, and so she leaves to start her life again.
After finding herself a key player in the resolution of a murder case she realises that she wants to make a mark on the world and finds herself a job at one of the local newspapers, The Star. It is here that she finds out that a young black woman named Cleo Sherwood has gone missing, something which hasn’t been covered in the local press. When Cleo’s body is found in a fountain in the park Maddie decides to investigate, inadvertently bringing trouble to her door.
What seems like a book about a budding Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher, is anything but. Lady In The Lake is at times a crime novel and at others historical fiction but overall it is beautifully compelling and an intoxicating read. Laura Lippman juggles a number of narrative voices; Maddie and Cleo predominantly, but other characters too whom Maddie comes into contact with. I loved these chapters which ranged from a fellow journalist to a waitress in a coffee shop via police officers, bar tenders and colleagues. These interludes are almost short stories, providing us with the opportunity to view Maddie from the eyes of others but to also gain understanding of the gender and racial politics at play at the time.
This is a time when mixed race relationships are against the law and a black police officer is not allowed a patrol car never mind have the opportunity to become a detective. Maddie is a woman who goes against the curve; leaving her husband and son, embarking on a relationship with a black police officer and getting a job. She challenges the norms and preconceptions and is a woman ahead of her time, forging a path for others to follow. She wants a second chance at life and wants to make herself happy but she knows she has to work that bit harder than her male counterparts and that any mistake she makes will not be tolerated.
I was struck by the role of women and how they are perceived by others. Both Maddie and Cleo are beautiful women who use their sex and sexuality cunningly. Maddie is aware of how men look at her and how they respond to her and she uses this to manoeuvre her life change – dressing carefully, maintaining eye contact a beat too long and ensuring that she is the most attractive woman in the room. She craves independence and yet her ex-husband still pays her bills. This dichotomy of a half life was powerful to read as it reminded me that he 1960s wasn’t that long ago.
This is a well-executed and well-crafted novel which features some exquistely beautiful writing. It is a slow burn of a novel with lots of world building and scene setting but has the most wonderful pay-off. Maddie and Cleo got firmly under my skin and I was both unsettled and entranced. You know those books that you wish you could read for the first time again? This is one of those. Polished and accomplished this is a beautiful book of quiet power and I highly recommend it.
About The Author
Since the publication of her first novel in 1997, Laura Lippman, the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed stand-alones After I’m Gone, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know has won virtually every major award given to U.S. crime writings, including the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, Agatha Award, Nero Wolfe Award, Shamus Award, and the Quill Award.
Where You Can Buy It
My thanks to Namra Amir at Faber & Faber for an invitation to join the Blog Tour and for a copy of the book.