Published: July 23, 2019
The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.
In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.
Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.
Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.
Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.
In this most recent book by Laura Lippman, she tells the story of Maddie Schwartz, an attractive thirty-seven year-old Jewish housewife who abruptly leaves her husband and son to pursue a long-held ambition to be a journalist, and Cleo Sherwood, an African-American cocktail waitress about whom little is known.
Sherwood’s body was found in a lake in a city park months after she disappeared, and while no one else seems to care enough to investigate, Maddie becomes obsessed—partly due to certain similarities she perceives between her life and Cleo’s, partly due to her faith in her own detective skills.
The story unfolds from Maddie’s point of view as well as that of Cleo’s ghost, who seems to be watching from behind the scenes, commenting on Maddie’s nosing around like a bull in a china shop after getting a job at one of the city papers.
We also see her effect on some of the people she comes into contact with: a jewelry store clerk, an about-to-be-murdered schoolgirl, “Mr. Helpline,” a bartender, a political operative, a waitress, a Baltimore Oriole, the first African-American female policewoman (these last two are based on real people), and many more. Though allusive for one, make a single appearance they greatly add to the enjoyment of the novel.
Maddie’s ambition propels her forward despite the cost to others, including the family of the deceased and her own secret lover, a black policeman.
To achieve realism for the newspaper part of the story the author interviewed associates of her father, Baltimore Sun journalist Theo Lippman Jr., and included fascinating historical facts.
Mixing noir with hints of hard-boiled fiction, Lady in the Lake gives readers unlikeable but entertaining characters surrounding a mystery loosely based on actual events of the time period.