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