Married for nearly twenty years, Maddie Schwartz up and leaves her husband Milton to pursue a different path in life. No longer content with being a housewife, Maddie’s ambitions lead her to work for The Star, an afternoon newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland. It isn’t long before she finds herself working as a reporter tackling the case of a murdered black woman, Cleo Sherwood, who had been found decomposing in a lake. Because of her ethnicity, her death isn’t seen as worthy of a story, but Maddie feels a personal connection with Cleo and vows to find her killer.
I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for review.
This is my second Laura Lippman experience after reading her 2017 novel, Sunburn. I loved that one and when I was done with it, I promptly kicked myself for not taking the time to speak with her at Bouchercon a few years back outside of the very brief meeting we shared amidst the chaos of a Harper-Collins book signing.
Lady in the Lake takes place way back in the 1960s when things like divorce and interracial relationships were frowned upon (OK, interracial relationships still aren’t in the best spot, but it is certainly a hell of a lot better today than in the era of the civil rights movement), so Lippman has a lot of themes to play with while the mystery carries the bulk of the load for plot progression.
While most chapters follow Maddie through a third person narration, there are alternating chapters that take place from the viewpoint of several peripheral characters including what appears to be the ghost of Cleo Sherwood. I thought this was an extremely effective way to tell the story. Lippman gives the reader a view into the lives and minds of those that both make up the city of Baltimore as well as those that have a connection to Cleo’s death. It takes a very talented mystery writer to be willing to show her hand like that and have the confidence to be able to keep her audience guessing until the end.
Maddie herself is a complex character – I can see a lot of people labeling her “unlikeable” and taking issues with some of the decisions she makes. While they weren’t always what I would consider the right choices, I don’t feel that Lippman had Maddie stray outside of her character given her personal progression from bored housewife to an ambitious, independent working woman. After a lifetime of putting others first, it’s time she concentrate on herself and make use of her own desire to be more than she was.
Laura Lippman has produced an excellent story about Baltimore and the social structure of the time all framed within a murder-mystery. I can see this being a big success with readers this summer – a good novel to bring to the beach or carry with you on vacation.
Side note: I could easily see Lady in the Lake transitioning into an award winning film. It seems to hit all the tent poles of those period dramas Hollywood just loves.
Lady in the Lake is scheduled for release on July 23, 2019