I ended my review of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn (2018) declaring it the best book the author had ever produced — a bold statement, given her extraordinary catalogue of mysteries and thrillers. But somehow, impossibly, Lippman has done it again, elevating her craft to an entirely new stratosphere. Lady in the Lake is Lippman’s boldest, most ambitious novel to date; part mystery, part character study, part rumination on the racism, sexism and classicism of Baltimore in the 1960s.
The story belongs to Madeline Schwarz, a mid-thirties Jewish housewife who leaves her husband and son to pursue her dream of becoming a newspaper reporter, and Cleo Sherwood, a black cocktail waitress, whose body is found in a lake in a city park months after she vanished. Maddie becomes obsessed with the case, and Lady in the Lake follows her long investigation into the young mother’s fate, dealing with the vicious patriarchy of the newsroom (and the world beyond) and juggling an illicit romance with her lover; a black policeman, who has ambitions to make detective.
The narrative cuts from Maddie’s perspective to the ethereal, ghost-like omniscience of Cleo, and various first-person interludes from side-characters. This collage of voices might grind another story to a halt, or at least undermine its pace, but in Lippman’s hands they add luminous depth, and turn what might’ve been a simple procedural (albeit a good one) into something genre-defying.
Lady in the Lake is an addictive mystery served with a panorama of nuanced characters who come alive in its pages with intelligence and depth. Alongside Dervla McTiernan’s The Scholar, it’s firmly locked in as one of my favourite crime novels of the year.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom