LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman

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From the publisher:

The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

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 black 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 jewelry 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.

One of my favorite books back when I was in junior high & high school, was Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. Wouk is much better know for The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance, despite the fact that Morningstar was made into a so-so movie starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. I’m telling you this because apparently, it is also one of Lippman’s favorite books and it is the inspiration for The Lady in the Lake. Morningstar was a stage name, the protagonist was a nice Jewish girl named Marjorie Morgenstern who eventually marries Milton Schwartz, as does Lippman’s Maddie Morgenstern Schwartz. Hope this isn’t too confusing!

So a couple of the characters have the same/similar names to the Wouk book, and the timeline is similar but the real similarity is that both women, Marjorie & Maddie, want more out of life than to just be a suburban mom. In the mid-twentieth century, women didn’t have many opportunities do do more than that, but these women did.

Maddie leaves her husband and teenage son (who refuses to move in with his mom) and tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She fakes a robbery to collect the insurance money, has an affair with a black cop, finds a dead body and pushes her way into a job at the local Baltimore newspaper. One of the themes of this book was the struggle female journalists had in reaching any level of success in the profession back in the 1960’s; racism is a bigger theme.

I really like the way Lippman gets into every character’s head, most have at least a chapter told in their voice so you really know what they are thinking, it adds a lot to the story. Cleo’s voice is especially compelling, especially as the story moves on. They mystery is tight but almost secondary to the characters.

Sometimes, when an author writes a series, I’ve noticed I sort of take the writing for granted. That becomes especially apparent in this standalone; it is a brilliant piece of writing from one of the best writers out there. Don’t miss it. (And check out Terry Gross’s interview with Lippman on Fresh Air, and Lippman’s essay in the CrimeReads blog. See links below.)

7/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman. William Morrow (July 23, 2019).  ISBN 978-0062390011.  352p.

Listen to Terry Gross interview Laura Lippman on Fresh Air

Laura Lippman: My 35-Year Love Affair with Marjorie Morningstar




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