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Thursday, 24 April 2014

‘After I'm Gone’ by Laura Lippman

Published by Faber & Faber,
3 April 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-057-29966-9

Laura Lippman is known for her wonderful series featuring PI. Tess Monaghan, among other terrific books.  So I started this book believing it to be a murder mystery, especially as it begins with the discovery of a dead body.  But then it appeared that I was wrong, that it was instead a very interesting character study, or rather 'studies,' dealing as it does with a dysfunctional family, the wife and three daughters (as well as their significant others) of a fascinating man, Felix Brewer, rarely seen in these pages, the husband and father of these women, and others who were close to him.  These latter included the lawyer and bail bondsman who were his best friends since their Baltimore high school days, and Julie, the younger mistress with whom he had cheated on his wife for several years as the story opens, which story encompasses a 35-year period.

Felix met Bernadette ("Bambi") when she was 19 years old at a Valentine's Day dance and quickly swept her off her feet, marrying her soon after.  (Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, when Felix and Bambi married, and July 4th are significant dates in the story.)  A bookmaker, he keeps her in very comfortable surroundings until he is arrested, convicted, and about to start serving a prison term when, on July 4th, 1976, he vanishes, with no clue as to his plans or his whereabouts, leaving his wife relatively impoverished, his mistress slightly less so.  Ten years later, to the day, Julie vanishes as well, her dead body found soon after.  The present-day narration begins 26 years later, when Roberto ("Sandy") Sanchez, the Cuban-born retired Baltimore cop who, as a consultant working on cold cases for the police department, picks up the murder file.

If all this was was a book encompassing character studies of each of these, it would very interesting reading.  But that would be selling Ms. Lippman quite short:  She has rendered a fascinating mystery, dealing with Brewer's disappearance, his mistress' murder, and the complex stories of the lives of these people, the detective on the case as well as all the others who make up the suspect group, each rendered in fine detail.  Infidelity, in several manifestations, plays a large role in the plot.  The author has fashioned an ending that you won't see coming, even when you're sure you do.  (Parenthetically, the tie-in to Tess Monaghan near the book's end was a delight.)  As with all Ms. Lippman's books, this one too is highly recommended.

Reviewer: Gloria Feit

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light. Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

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