Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Lady in the Lake.jpgI 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.

ISBN: 9780571339440
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

9780571335664Prepare to be played like a violin as Laura Lippman wrings suspense out of every possible aspect of her revitalisation of the classic noir tale of the sexy stranger passing through town.

During a beach vacation with her husband and three-year-old daughter, Polly Costello — just one of the names readers will soon learn to identify her as — gets up and walks away; out of the sun, and apparently, out of their lives. Gregg is apoplectic, but not as shocked by her abandonment as every other husband might be; Polly is, after all, he reasons, a wildcat he picked up in a bar four years ago. So while he’s stuck playing single dad, Polly starts a new life, which is merely a phase in her long-term plan. She gets a job as the waitress at the High-Ho during the peak of the summer season; so, too, does the mysterious, attractive stranger she met on her first day on the lam. Only they didn’t meet by accident; Adam Bosk has been watching Polly for some time, and at first, his job as chef at the High-Ho is merely a cover story to stay close to her. But their chemistry is undeniable, and they quickly become lovers, both with secrets that could not only end their relationship, but cost their lives.

It’s not murder that makes Sunburn thrum; it’s deception, and the consequences of secrets, and the lengths people will go to in order to keep them sacrosanct. Lippman, who plots more conscientiously than anyone else in the field, digs deep into her characters, then deeper, into past and present until all is revealed, right up until the shocking climactic confrontation.

This is a gripping, wrenching, brilliant piece of noir, and quite possibly the best novel super-scribe Laura Lippman has penned. Sunburn will delight long-time fans and make the author new ones.

 

ISBN: 9780571335664
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom