Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

shopping   If you remember Laura Lippman’s Sunburn, you will recognize the same venue – Baltimore – and a similar woman in crisis manipulating the suspense in her new novel – Lady in the Lake.  Lippman calls this a newspaper novel, using real sources for credibility, while imagining an attractive thirty-something woman’s climb to popular columnist, deftly using the bodies she finds along the way to further her career.

I can think of a number of actresses who might want to play the role of Madeline Schwarz; she’s attractive, smart, feisty, and sexy.  Once she decides to leave her comfortable twenty year marriage with Milton, nothing will stop her from pursuing her dream job of being a journalist.  After she and her friend discover the dead body of Tessie Fine, she finesses her correspondence with the accused murderer in jail to get a low-level position at the Star, Baltimore’s afternoon newspaper.  With this taste of success, she decides to pursue another death of a young girl, Cleo, found in a city park lake fountain and nicknamed the lady in the lake.  These two murders drive the plot, while Maddie’s struggles with herself and the system capture our attention.

Although Maddie is the main voice in the story, Lippman cleverly diverts to others who connect with her, giving short chapters to their voices: Maddie’s lover, the newsman who covers the police beat, a Baltimore Orioles baseball player after a game, the mother of the murder victim, a psychic, and others.  The most persistent voice is Cleo’s ghost, as she reacts to Maddie’s interviews with family and friends, and her message is consistent – stop prying.

Maddie appears needy and coldly ambitious. She manages to ruin a few lives as she uncovers the truth, and she pays for her mistakes in blood.  Lippman ties up the loose strings, answering all questions in the end, but not without a double twist I did not see coming.

Related Review:  Thrillers with Heat

House At Sea’s End

Feisty women detectives who can solve crimes, but have trouble handling their personal lives seems to be a good formula for mystery.  Before I got hooked on Julia Spencer Fleming’s Clare Ferguson series, I had found Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway, the British  forensic archeologist.  The cliffhanger at the end of the second book included the results of a romance with the local handsome  – and married – detective. Thanks to a friend who reminded me of the third book in this series – The House at Sea’s End is offering the next installment to the personal drama, and with more murders to be solved.

With the backdrop of the cold British cliffs of Norfolk, Ruth leads an investigation of six dead bodies, but this time she’s a single mother, juggling “babyminders”  and her career.  Griffiths fills in the backstory with references to her first two books, but the relationships are easy to decipher without reminders of past crimes solved.  Solving the many murders is fun with World War II espionage and a secret message Ruth cracks by deciphering a dead man’s code – but the romance is better.

Not a long wait to find out what happens next with Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson – Griffiths has another mystery in the series to be published soon – The House of Bones – more progress on the romance and more murders to be solved.  If you like Clare’s mystery/romance escapades, you might enjoy Ruth too.

Read my reviews of Elly Griffiths’ first two books:

The Crossing Places – a Ruth Galloway Mystery

The Saltmarsh in Norfolk, England with Celtic torques and an archeological dig – the perfect setting for Elly Griffiths first crime novel, The Crossing Places.  Introducing Ruth Galloway, a feisty fortyish professor and expert in fourth century bones, Griffiths has created a smart, likable forensic archeologist.

Don’t be fooled – this is not Miss Marple or that lovely lady from Maine.  Ruth Galloway uses her academic training like Indiana Jones, and takes you on a mystery ride that’s fun, adventurous, sometimes scary, sometimes sexy.

Handsome Police detective Harry Nelson calls Ruth in to identify bones that have been uncovered in the marsh, thinking they may be related to a missing child case that is ten years old.  The bones belong to a fourth century girl, but the discovery marks the beginning of Ruth’s involvment in solving the mystery that involves threatening letters, another missing child, and a slate of suspicious characters.

Griffiths leads you astray so many times as she keeps the suspense up.  Just when you think you know whodunit, the plot turns again, not revealing the true killer until the end.

I can’t wait to read the next Ruth Galloway mystery – already ordered from the library – The Janus Stone – more adventures with Ruth and Detective Harry Nelson.

The Vintage Caper

Reading Peter Mayle’s latest book is like slowly sipping a glass of really good wine. The action is slow for a detective novel, but the flavors are exquisite.

A lover of fine wine, good food, and anything French, former crook turned detective Sam Levitt, is easy to follow as he meanders through France  in search of wine stolen from a wealthy LA wine collector.  Where else would you look for stolen bordeaux but in Bordeaux?

The reader can almost taste and smell the meals, always accompanied by the wine – and the seafood in Marseilles sounds as good as Julia Child’s tasty descriptions in My Life in France.

But it’s not all about the food; it’s about the wine.  And Levitt, with his new sidekick Sophie, a French beauty who doubles as dinner companion and fellow sleuth (gorgeous but Sam already has a girlfriend), rev the action into second gear but not until about the middle of the book.

Even if you don’t know the difference between a bottle of two buck Chuck and a ’53 Lafite, the chase for the stolen wine is satisfying.  And you will learn a lot about French wine along the way.

If you like to drink in your detective novels with a slow read, and not chug them; if you like Mayle’s style – ala A Year in Provence; if you can stay awake through the wine headache – you might enjoy this read.  As much as I tried not to, I couldn’t keep from going back to The Vintage Caper. The ending is not what you’d predict – a good sign for a full-bodied detective story.