The Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman

Shelf Indulgence

The Lady In The Lake, by Laura Lippman

When I first started reading this novel I set it aside and didn’t review it for Shelf Indulgence. But when I dipped into it again recently, I realised my mistake within the first couple of pages. I was so taken with the multiple narrative perspectives that I knew it merited a second read.

Maddie Schwartz, an intelligent, middle-aged Jewish wife, is jolted by a chance encounter with her prom date and decides that she wants more from life than an affluent but dull marriage. When she discovers the body of a missing child, she draws out the killer and is set on a path to achieve a cherished ambition: her own byline as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun. Then a woman’s body is pulled from a park fountain, and Maddie determines that this is the story that will finally get her name in print. The victim, identified as Cleo Sherwood, a black club hostess and ‘good time girl’, disappeared eight months earlier, and only Cleo’s parents and two young boys seem to care. Maddie cares, too, seeing parallels between Cleo’s and her own teenage misadventure which might have destroyed her, but her relentless pursuit of the story stirs up troubles she could hardly have imagined.

Set in Baltimore during mid nineteen-sixties, The Lady in the Lake reflects the social issues and prejudices of the time. Racial, religious, and sexist bigotry are important elements of this novel, and Maddie’s ‘dangerous’ relationship with a black police officer is brought into sharp focus by the astonishing reality that state law banned interracial marriages at that time. Lippman’s talent for seeing the world through her characters’ eyes is seductive and persuasive, and we hear the voices of both major and minor characters including newsmen, cops, Cleo’s parents, her boys, and even from the victim herself. A richly rewarding tale with psychological depth and hints of classic noir.

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