Laura Lippman is one of my favourite authors and one of the things I love about her books is that you never know what you are going to get next. Her last book, Sunburn, was outstanding; a modern day noir in the style of James M. Cain. It was the best book I think she had ever written. So where to next? The answer was back to her home city of Baltimore and her old stomping ground of newspapers for an historical murder mystery.
It is 1965 and Maddie Schwarz has come to the realization that she no longer wants to be married. Her marriage has not been terrible but after a dinner party with an old school friend she becomes aware that she is no longer in love with her husband. So Maddie moves out of their family home, rents an apartment downtown and begins a new life for herself. After being involved in the search for a missing girl Maddie decides she wants to be a journalist. She gets a job assisting the Mr Helpline column but Maddie wants to write and she has an eye for a story. When the body of a missing African-American woman is found the story gets little coverage. Maddie, sensing an opportunity starts digging into the story to try and find out what happened to The Lady in the Lake. But Maddie’s digging is going to stir open a lot of trouble.
I loved the way Laura Lippman constructs this book. She tells the story of Maddie Schwarz over the course of a year, a month at a time. Each chapter is interspersed with the point of view of a character Maddie has previously encountered in the preceding chapter. Added to this is the haunting commentary of Cleo Sherwood, the so-called Lady in the Lake, as Maddie tries to piece together what may have happened. Laura then brings all these points of view together in a climatic third act as Maddie’s digging unearths more than she bargained for.
The novel also expertly captures the world of newspapers and journalism as well as the city of Baltimore. Both at the precipice of huge change. Both are evolving for the good and the bad and Laura use this and Maddie to wonderfully evoke the era of the 1960s and what this change encapsulates.
I couldn’t get enough of this book. This is Laura Lippman, once again, at her absolute best.