And When She Was Good, by Laura Lippman.
She pours another glass of wine, finishing a bottle for the first time in years, yet feeling as if she's not drinking alone, far from it. She's one of a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, a million women, holding a glass and staring into space, asking herself the musical questions she used to hear on soupy, soapy WFEN radio: What's it all about? Is that all there is? What are you doing with the rest of your life? - from And When She Was Good, page 125 -
Heloise is living in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland with her eleven-year-old son, looking like most of the other women who drive their kids to school, drink coffee at the local cafe, and shop for the latest fashion trends. But Heloise is hiding a secret. Her son's father, Val, has not died the tragic death which Heloise has told her neighbors about ... instead he sits in prison for murder because of Heloise's cooperation with police. Val not only does not know the part Heloise has played in his conviction, but he also has no idea he has a son -- a secret Heloise is committed to keeping. And Heloise is not supporting her lifestyle from some insurance payout, instead she runs a high-end prostitution business where the customers are some of the most powerful men in politics and one misstep could upend her carefully constructed life.
Heloise has learned to lie and hide, to compartmentalize her life so that she can give her son everything she never had ... and it all seems to be working out until Heloise discovers that Val's life imprisonment might be overturned, and a certain suburban Madam from the next town over is arrested and then found dead in her garage. Are the two incidents connected? And if so, what does that mean for Heloise?
Laura Lippman will not disappoint her fans with this newest novel about the dark, despairing world of prostitution and the incomparable love of a mother for her son. Heloise is a surprisingly compassionate protagonist, a woman who survives the abusive hand of her stepfather only to find herself caught up in a life of meaningless sex for money. She is willing to do what it takes to survive, and is determined to make a life for her child even if it means risking everything. Heloise has learned to flatten her effect, disengage from others, be the keeper of her own life ... and yet, she has dreams and desires that require her to trust. This dichotomy is what provides the tension in the novel.
Lippman's exploration of a woman's value in society, which is often measured in her ability to balance the demands of marriage, motherhood and profession, elevates the book beyond a simple psychological thriller. Heloise represents many women -- those who have suffered and survived domestic violence, those who have sacrificed for their children, those who have struggled to find their professional path, those who have fought for something better and have fallen and gotten back up again. Lippman's talent as an author shines in this aspect of the novel -- illuminating the challenges of women in a society which often demeans them.
No one values her. That was a painful lesson to learn at her father's knee -- at the end of her father's arm, at the flat of his palm -- but once she absorbed it, she flourished. It doesn't matter what others think she is worth. She sets the price. - from And When She Was Good, page 81 -
I have loved previous novels by Lippman, but I think And When She Was Good is her best effort to date. Complex characters, themes relevant to today's women, and a plot that is keenly observed and brilliantly executed. I read this novel in record time, not wanting to set it down for too long before picking it back up.
Readers who love literary thrillers and want deeply-developed characters along with a fast-paced plot, will not want to miss this one.
Four and a half stars out of five.
FTC Disclosure: I received this novel from the publisher for review on my blog.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".