eBook review copy; 352 pages
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman is a very highly recommended standalone mystery
Set in Baltimore, Lady in the Lake follows Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz for a little over a year from 1965 to 1966. Maddie is a 37-year-old Jewish housewife who has separated from her husband of almost twenty year after a dinner party forces her to remember that as a young woman she aspired to live a meaningful life. When an 11-year-old girl is missing, presumed dead, Maddie joins the search for her and ends up finding the body and helping the police. Maddie parlays this and some correspondence she had with the suspected killer into a job at the Star, one of the cities local newspapers.
Cleo Sherwood was a young black woman whose body is discovered in the Druid Hill Park fountain. While discovering what happened to her murder seems less pressing to the police, Maddie is determined to discover what happened to Cleo. Cleo's ghost, whose voice is an ongoing part of the narrative, wants Maddie to leave it alone. Maddie is sure this is the story that can start her career as a reporter, but Maddie's determination will cause problems for many other people.
Everyone expects exceptional writing from Lippman and Lady in the Lake makes good on that expectation and gives even more. The narrative is mainly told through Maddie's voice, but there is also consistent commentary from Cleo (in italics) as well as first person vignettes from a whole host of other characters that Maddie encounters along the way. For me, these accounts provide a richness and depth to the plot that would have otherwise been an excellent story presented in a more typical style. I applaud Lippman for this choice and appreciated the "Our Town" presentation style. I felt it helped set Lady in the Lake apart and created a more complete picture of the time, place, and people in the novel.
Maddie is a complicated character living in a time when her choices were limited by societal expectations and the men around her. This atmosphere is captured perfectly in Lippman's newspaper noir novel. Maddie is a very well developed character. She may not always know what reactions her actions will result in, but she is determined to uncover the truth behind the two mysteries in the novel. It is to her credit that she seemingly cares more than the police about getting answers. The answers are both there, but getting them comes via a surprising, unexpected twist.
Lady in the Lake is a rich nuanced novel with well-drawn characters, depth, and style. While it is not the adrenaline packed thriller than some fans might have been expecting, I was engrossed in this complex, interesting story from start to finish and give it my highest recommendation.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.