Laura Lippman's latest, "And When She was Good," is out this week, the latest from Baltimore's favorite mystery writer. Here's a review from Celeste Sollod, a book publishing veteran who writes about Baltimore literary life at BaltimoreBookTalk.com (You can also follow her on Twitter @BaltimoreBooks):
Heloise Lane, protagonist of Laura Lippman's new stand-alone psychological thriller, "And When She Was Good", is one of the most complex characters the prolific author has created. "People around me have gotten hurt, over and over again," Heloise says, but "It's not my fault. It can't be my fault."
Heloise, born Helen, is a mother and a madam. Lest one think the two jobs clash, it's important to acknowledge that being a high-class prostitute (she sees clients as well as supervising her six employees and two drivers cum security guards) allows Helen to be present for almost every school pick-up and drop-off for her 11-year-old son, Scott, plus every soccer practice. Considering recent articles about whether or not women can have it all, successful career plus motherhood, Heloise has struck gold. Her company allows her to live in a good neighborhood with a good school, despite the lack of college degree, husband, or family help. She does have an "au pair," a woman convicted of killing the husband who beat her, but Audrey helps her more with running her business than with taking care of Scott.
Like so many other girls who become prostitutes, Heloise left home due to an abusive father. Since then, she's thrived on her looks and smarts. Her early-career pimp, also the father of her son, taught her how to run the business, and though he's now in jail for murdering a colleague, he's still her semi-unwanted mentor--and he gets a third of the take. Heloise serves a select clientele: career politicians powerful enough to have strong motivation to keep their extracurricular activities a secret, but not so well-known or sanctimonious that, should those activities be discovered, they'd be of interest to the public.
Now one of her long-time protectors in law enforcement has decided to retire, leaving her with an extra warning to be careful; a madam who once worked with her for the pimp has been murdered, and a long-time client who also lets her know when threats to her business might be forthcoming has suggested she retire. After all, she's in her late thirties. Good looks don't last forever. Not only that, one of her girls has HIV, something Heloise has tried to protect against; and, to top it all off, her mother wants back into her life. She does what any mother would do: hope the storm of events blows over until she can finish raising her son in the style to which he's become accustomed.
Lippman's author bio for this book is the first in which she mentions her well-known husband, television writer and producer David Simon, by name, along with the fact that they have a daughter and she has a stepson. Previously, she's been intensely private. While it's general knowledge who her husband is, in an interview shortly after "I'd Know You Anywhere" was published two years ago, Lippman mentioned she wouldn't be touring to promote the book as much as she had toured in the past for personal reasons, without specifying that the reason was a new baby. Perhaps her new openness in the bio indicates something about the relationship between Lippman's characters and home life.
Personal attributes of Lippman's protagonists' lives seem generally to parallel her own. In an interview at last year's Baltimore Book Festival, Lippman said she hoped a new Tess Monaghan book would be forthcoming, but that in the meantime, Tess Monaghan had "some serious childcare issues" to attend to, making it clear that the author shared those issues.
The heroines of her other books -- and they're all heroines; I'm curious to see how she'd create a male protagonist -- were victims of crimes as young women who weren't responsible for other lives. Eliza Benedict of "I'd Know You Anywhere" is a mother worried her attacker will be released, but she hadn't been when she was a teenage victim. In "A Girl in a Green Raincoat," Tess Monaghan is on bedrest due to pregnancy, but she's not yet a mother. And in "The Most Dangerous Thing" Gwen Robison's life isn't threatened; her past is being unearthed. Heloise is the first protagonist who's seriously threatened while she's a mother, and she has far more at stake than Lippman's other heroines do.
So now, living her own complicated family life (and I don't know Lippman's family life beyond hints I've gleaned from interviews and author bios, I just know that everyone has a complicated family life) Lippman has created a complex mother heroine whose general career problems while caring for a family parallel those of many others. Heloise isn't an innocent victim the way so many of Lippman's other main characters are, she has more control over her life, and the book is richer for it.