Lippman walks a fine line, balancing a cracking good mystery with the story of a not always admirable woman working to stand on her own. Lippman never loses sight of Maddie’s options and her obstacles. Both turn out to be men... Although Lippman’s heart clearly rests with Maddie and her struggle to become more than just Mrs. Milton Schwartz, and although she gives a splendid picture of the newspaper business in an era when newspapers mattered a lot more than they do today, she never loses touch with the twin mysteries at the center of her story. We care about Maddie, sure, but we also want to know who helped Tessie Fine’s killer move Tessie’s body from the place where she was murdered. And as for the murder of Cleo Sherwood? Apologies to Mr. Wilson, but we care quite a bit. Lippman answers all outstanding questions with a totally cool double twist that your reviewer — a veteran reader of mysteries — never saw coming.
The title’s reference to Raymond Chandler’s novel is misleading — this is anything but a hard-boiled private eye novel. Lippman’s subjects are racism, sexism and the straitjacket of class. The latter is pointed up by a voice from beyond the grave: that of Cleo. The contrasts between middle-class, Jewish Maddie and disadvantaged Cleo are trenchantly made clear. Apart from the consummately structured narrative, we are given both a vivid evocation of time and place — an unenlightened Ohio of the 1960s — and a cogent sociological study that is not afraid to be critical of its single-minded protagonist.
This vivid historical novel inspired by two real deaths (one solved, one unsolved) confirms Lippman’s status as one of the most skilled and prolific authors of American crime fiction – and makes for a fascinating, unforgiving dive into Sixties Baltimore... Lippman, a Baltimore resident and former Baltimore Sun reporter, takes her time to paint a full picture of her city, and her evident pleasure in doing so is infectious. It’s not always a comfortable picture, mind you – set a full decade after the end of racial segregation in the United States, Lippman’s novel depicts the remaining blatant racism of the Sixties.
Lippman is an experienced writer of crime fiction. At one level, Lady in the Lake is simply a murder mystery with a very satisfying twist in its tail, but with its multiple narrators and ingenious structure it also draws attention to difficult issues of race and gender.
This is another masterpiece from Laura Lippman. Even the author's note on the very last page packs a real punch, instead of the endless list of daft acknowledgements in which so many writers indulge these days... Lippman stops short of any trite moralising, but, if there is a message in her writing, it's about the value of complexity — Maddie is a woman torn between passion, respectability and ambition.
A real triumph of storytelling and suspense.
Maddie is “the kind of woman who laughs at men’s jokes even when they’re not funny”. But when she finds out that the body of a black woman, Cleo Sherwood, has been discovered in a fountain, and that no one else seems to care, she starts to investigate, using every tool at her disposal to pick away at the dangerous secrets and closed ranks that surround this story. Lippman is such a skilful writer, her narrative flitting between perspectives to bring 1960s Baltimore, a world of racial tensions and sexual inequality, to vivid life.