Book review: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Sunday, August 4, 2019 Permalink

I’ve long been a fan of Laura Lippman: her standalone novels as well as her (reporter-turned-PI) Tess Monaghan series.

In my review of Sunburn I note that Lippman is vague about the timing of plot elements so is able to keep we readers guessing. And here, in her latest standalone, she adopts the interesting approach of introducing a lot – like lots and lots – of narrators…. some of whom we meet but briefly. It could be confusing, but it actually works well. And is kinda clever.

Book review: Lady in the Lake by Laura LippmanLady in the Lake
by Laura Lippman
on August 5th 2019
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 0571339441
Pages: 344

Cleo Sherwood disappeared eight months ago. Aside from her parents and the two sons she left behind, no one seems to have noticed. It isn't hard to understand why: it's 1966 and neither the police, the public nor the papers care much when Negro women go missing.

Maddie Schwartz - recently separated from her husband, working her first job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun wants one thing: a byline. When she hears about an unidentified body that's been pulled out of the fountain in Druid Hill Park, Maddie thinks she is about to uncover a story that will finally get her name in print. What she can't imagine is how much trouble she will cause by chasing a story that no-one wants her to tell.

Like Sunburn the timing in the opening of this book is a bit (deliberately) confusing. There’s a lot happening in Maddie’s life and Lippman has to spend time on that. The novel’s set in the mid 1960s so for many younger readers there’ll be some surprises in store in terms of sexism and racism. I was yet to be born but probably came in on the cusp of that era, when feminism was just starting to raise its not-so-ugly head.

It all means that some Jewish people we meet in the book felt the need to hide their background; that segregation still existed; and that a woman who leaves her husband essentially has (gets) nothing but what she can take with her.

We spend most of our time with Maddie who is on a ‘journey’ (sorry!) of sorts. She’s morphed from a teenager with secrets to a respectable (but stifled) Jewish housewife and mother, to…. well, that’s when we meet her. Her work with the newspaper starts almost accidentally but she’s smart (and savvy) and has enough life experience that she looks past the obvious and won’t take no for an answer.

We also spend a lot of time with Cleo, who we soon learn is already dead when the novel starts. It’s kinda sad initially as there’s a moment we engage with her and next minute, we’re told she’s gone. Having said that however… I ultimately probably found her character less likeable than I expected and felt little sympathy for the ‘lady in the lake’. I’m sure however, had we spent more time with Cleo while alive my perception (about her being kinda self-absorbed and selfish) would probably be different.

The mystery itself is – in some ways – solved pretty easily. Well, kinda. But we’re not entirely sure who to trust as Lippman throws in a few twists and Maddie eventually finds herself at risk.

This book is well-paced and doesn’t drag – which it could given the number of elements featured.  Lippman’s writing is lovely, particularly in Cleo’s somewhat wistful and regretful narrative.

Now it was five, almost six months later. The water in the lake was warming, shifting. Tiny creatures nibbled at what was left of my clothes. Rays of light pierced the murk at midday, but it couldn’t reach me. Somehow that thing that had become me, that inconsiderate, restless rag of a body that had replaced my beautiful one…. p 126

The interesting part of this book is the way its narrated. We have our two central hosts and a range of other support characters, but entire chapters are narrated by minor or inconsequential characters (to whom we’re briefly introduced). That being said, they always offer us something… a tidbit, some context or backstory. We don’t meet most again. Maddie is written in third person, but Cleo and the other narrators (all clearly labelled before their chapter starts) are written from the first person point of view, so it’s almost as if we’re given some behind-the-scenes vision that neither Maddie nor Cleo are offered.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and available from 5 August 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 



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