Before last summer, I had never heard of Laura Lippman. I know, right? She has published over 20 novels, short stories, and a children’s book. She is award-nominated and award-winning. She’s been writing for more than 20 years…
I had never heard of Laura Lippman until I picked up her novel “Sunburn” last summer after it popped up on various summer reading lists and I was not disappointed. When I heard her new book “Lady in the Lake” was coming out, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. My expectations were high, I was in a bit of a reading slump after my busiest reading month ever, and this was exactly what I thought I needed.
There were parts of this book I absolutely loved and parts I wasn’t a fan of.
Do I think the writing was excellent? Yes.
Is it probably worth your time? Yup.
Did my reading slump give me unrealistic expections? Likely.
Lippman is really great at the slow-burn. I love her ability to transport her reader to a location they’ve never seen and, avoiding flowery language, still paint the most vivid setting. She is straight and to the point but somehow still so descriptive. I’m completely captivated by that talent because it shows she chooses words carefully and doesn’t rely on excess to build an entire complex world.
“Lady in the Lake” is no exception – it is all at once noir, mystery, romance, character study, and historical dive into gender and race relations in 1960s Baltimore. Our main character, Maddie Schwartz upends her marriage and goes out on her own in search of a greater meaning to her life than being a housewife. She seems to recognize the city is in the middle of a turning point and wants to make and take hold of any opportunity she can.
She starts working at a local newspaper office and is drawn to a story that has gone largely unreported: the body of Cleo Sherwood, a young black woman, was found in the lake in a Baltimore park and no one has been charged with her death and no one seems to be looking.
In what seems like true Lippman fashion, this story is shrouded in secrets and they just add fuel to a very slow burning fire.
What Worked for Me
- Mini chapters in between the main storyline. These almost short-stories are told from the perspective of some of the minor characters Maddie meets. These are so well done and kept me guessing about whether or not any of the characters would end up with a more prominent role later in the story.
- Newsroom/Local Police storyline. There is something about the interaction between reporters and law enforcement that interests me in a story. The two groups feel entirely at odds with one another but isn’t it fun when one person is a little too forthcoming with information to keep the story moving?
- Strong and sometimes unlikeable female lead. “Unlikeable” is quite the buzzword in literature these days. For me likeable is not necessary and honestly, unlikeable is almost preferable. Questionable choices, character flaws, emotional drama – I’m here for it. Who wants to read about a goody-two-shoes anyway? I like my female leads flawed and I like them scrappy and Maddie Schwartz is both of those things. She ditches her husband and her nearly adult son to go live the life she only dreamed possible. She maneuvers her way into her new job by any means necessary and carries on a purely physical affair with a man she presumes to be entertaining many other women on the side.
What Didn’t Work for Me
- The last 30-40 pages. Honestly? I have no idea how I would have preferred this book to end, but I know I felt a pang of disappointment as it unfolded. It almost felt like the story wrapping up was a different book entirely.
I think you should check this out. You may find my feelings about the ending to be completely unfounded. The internet is suggesting that I might be in the minority in this particular case.
But! If you have never read Laura Lippman before, I would encourage you to give “Sunburn” a shot to start.
Thank you to William Morrow for providing me with this advance copy in exchange for my unbiased review.