I won a free ARC from Goodreads in exchange for this review. Thanks Goodreads!
Laura Lippman’s been on a bit of a roll with her standalone novels. Wilde Lake was really good and Sunburn is, in my estimation, the best thing she’s ever done. Most of what I loved about reading Lippman’s Tess Monaghan novels growing up was the Baltimore tourism. Being a native of the city, it’s fun to see a bestselling author talk about places I know like they’re real.
But her standalone works show how she has evolved as a writer, forsaking the familiar private eye tropes and Baltimore fetishism of the Monaghan novels into more focused, reflective slow-burn mysteries and thrillers.
Lady in the Lake won’t top Sunburn for me but it’s a good one all the same. Lippman is doing less of a mystery here, though that is still going on, and more of a panoply of Baltimore at a specific time in its history, with cultural change on the horizon and racial tension boiling under the surface. For the first two thirds of the novel, Lippman does alternating chapters between protagonist Maddie’s story (told in the third person solely from her perspective) and a random person involved with the events of that chapter. Some are more strongly connected to the mystery than others. One of whom is Oriole legend Paul Blair and for a fan like me, that was a lot of fun. Lippman has a good handle on making each of these voices unique and distinct. They feel real to the people they are portraying. Granted, most of them are tangentially related to the mystery. I think liking this book will come down to: do you like these kinds of scenes or are you more interested in the whodunnit? If the former works for you, as it did for me, you’ll be fine. If not, this may not be for you.
The mystery itself is the least interesting aspect of the story. Lippman is using it to tell a bigger tale about race, gender, journalism, and Baltimore through the eyes of a Jewish woman approaching middle aged and trying to find her footing in the world. It didn’t compel me enough to care how it unfolded and I wasn’t thrilled at the resolution either. I got the sense she felt like she had to solve it and she picked a twisty way to do so. Leaving it a mystery would have been much more compelling.
But overall, this is another quality read from a good author. And even if you miss Tess Monaghan, there are easter eggs galore, including the story of how her parents met and the origins of Uncle Spike.