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

Thrillers with Heat – Sunburn and The Dry

Set in Australia, Jane Harper’s The Dry has a dried-up river and bush ready to burn; Laura Lippman’s Sunburn leaves its mark in familiar ground for this reader – Baltimore, Ocean City, and Delaware.  Both are gripping tales of murder with compelling twists and surprise endings – both are page-turners.

shopping-1In The Dry, the brutal murders on a farm bring federal agent Aaron Falk back to the town where he and his father were banished years earlier when Aaron’s friend was found drowned in the river.  When Aaron returns for the funeral of his best friend and his family, he uncovers raw wounds the town has never forgotten, and suspicion that he was responsible for the girl’s death twenty years earlier.  Mysteries around the all murders seem connected, and as he stays to investigate, the story leads him to surprising revelations about the people he thought he knew. The villain is cleverly concealed until the very end, and not one I suspected.

UnknownIn Sunburn, Lippman keeps the reader off balance, acknowledging as the story opens that Polly Costello has killed her abusive husband and abandoned her two girls, one disabled with cerebral palsy.  Nevertheless, Polly seems to be a sympathetic character – her life sentence is pardoned by the governor, and she wins an insurance settlement against the hospital where her disabled daughter was born.  The handsome private detective, hired by a crooked insurance salesman for his share of the money, falls in love with her.  Will he turn her in or run away with her?  Lippman’s clever twists are not that simple, and she maintains the suspense – juggling the good guys and bad guys, and flipping intentions back and forth with another murder in the middle of it all.  It’s fun to read, and the ending is a satisfying surprise I did not predict.


Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

In memory of Pat Gorman,

who loved a good mystery.


Laura Lippman weaves a complicated murder mystery in her latest suspenseful crime tale Wilde Lake. Set in Columbia, Maryland, one of the first planned communities of the seventies, with communal mailboxes, open space schools, and an all-inclusive philosophy, intended to eliminate racial, religious, and class segregation, the story flips through the community’s regression, going back and forth from it inception to the present day.  Not all goes as planned.

Having lived in the area for many years, the references to familiar landmarks were fun to revisit:  Hausner’s restaurant, the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia Mall, and the scandal-driven Governor Marvin Mandel.  Wilde Lake is still there as is Lake Kittamaqundi.

Although crime is the focus of the book with two murders across thirty years intersecting across the lives of the characters, memory has a major influence on the outcome.  We remember what we think happened and see what we want to see.  Noone is immune, from Lu Brant, the first woman State’s Attorney to her father, the beloved retired State’s Attorney.  Lipman reminds us of the stories and myths created in each family, some to cover pain, others to compensate, but most just to pass on a better life to another generation.  The truth usually emerges, as it does in Lippman’s story.

Life goes on and those who die become beloved.

9780062083456_p0_v3_s192x300    A Short Summary of the Plot from Harper Collins:

“Luisa “Lu” Brant, the newly elected state’s attorney, is prosecuting a controversial case involving a disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death. Her intensive preparation for trial unexpectedly dredges up painful recollections of another crime—the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Justice was done. Or was it? Did the events of 1980 happen as she remembers them? She was only a child then. What details didn’t she know?
As she plunges deeper into the past, Lu is forced to face a troubling reality. The legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. But what happens when she realizes that, for the first time, she doesn’t want to know the whole truth?”

Books to Find

Before returning Gelman and Krupp’s resourceful book, Table of Contents, to the library, I made a list from their author publications, but not of their recipes –

New books from familiar authors that look promising…

  • One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (I enjoyed her Mistress of Spices years ago)
  • The Scrying Glass – not yet published – by Katherine Howe (author of  one of favorites, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane) 
  • I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (author of The Girl in the Green Raincoat, recently reviewed)
  • Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein (author of The Art of Racing in the Rain – still on the New York Times bestseller list)

The Girl in the Green Raincoat

I try not to take library books on trips, preferring to leave a trail of paperbacks and New Yorkers wherever I go. But Laura Lippman’s short mystery, “The Girl in the Green Raincoat,” was such a thin book, and had been “previously serialized in the New York Times,” so I made an exception.

Tess Monaghan, clever crime investigator, is pregnant, and like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window” is confined to a room with a view. When the girl in the fashionable green raincoat, who regularly walks her Italian greyhound by Tess’s window, stops strolling by, Tess gets suspicious, and the mystery begins.

From the sleazy husband who seems to have an affinity for losing wives to accidents, disappearance, and death – to Tess’s friends and lover, Crow, the story could rival Hitchcock. The local Maryland flavor just adds to the fun – with the action referencing Roland Park, Glen Burnie, Severna Park, and Cantler’s in Annapolis – “the kind of place no one ever found by accident. Only a local could write this, and Laura Lippman lives in Baltimore.

The mystery is resolved; the murderer caught; the baby is born – and the dog plays a crucial role. Whether or not you like mysteries, “The Girl in the Green Raincoat” is a quick, satisfying read – with some nostalgic visits to familiar places for anyone who ever lived in the area.