Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-04-170687-5
Hardcover, $26.99 311 pages
Source: sent unsolicited by the publisher
Crime fiction is not a genre I frequently read, but I am a fan of the TV shows Weeds and Breaking Bad, so Laura Lippman's novel And When She Was Good, about a suburban single mom who runs a prostitution business, intrigued me. (I also live a block away from the place where a woman in NYC was accused of running a high-priced call girl ring.)
We meet teenage Helen, verbally abused by her unemployed father, a man separated from his wife and children, and living with Helen and her mother. He becomes more and more erratic and Helen becomes involved with the son of the owner of the restaurant where she works to make money for college.
The boyfriend is a troubled guy, a drug user, and convinces Helen to run away with him. Helen ends up working at a strip club and eventually as a prostitute. She trades in the bad boyfriend for Val, who is even worse, a serious pimp with a bad temper and a gun. When Val kills a man and Helen becomes pregnant, she plots her escape.
Flash forward and Helen is now Heloise, living in the suburbs and raising her twelve-year-old son. She is also running an internet prostitution ring, along with the help of her au pair/assistant Audrey. The only other person she can count on is Tom, a cop who knows what she does and protects her because she once helped him.
Heloise keeps a low profile:
"She always stands apart on the soccer field, her conversations with the other mothers polite yet fleeting. She's not sure whose fault that is. She stopped trying to figure out if she's standoffish because other mothers snub her or if she's snubbed because the other mothers sense she's standoffish. For the most part, she tells herself that's she's happy for their neglect... True, she encourages incuriosity in most people. Yet it's still hurtful to see how easily people fall into line with one's desire to be ignored."When another suburban madam's murder is made to look like suicide, and Heloise discovers that the man she put behind bars may be getting out of prison and one of her former employees tries to blackmail her, things begin to fall apart.
And When She Was Good is a page-turner of a novel, with twists and turns, and you will read it in one sitting. Helen is a tough, smart, resourceful lady, but like Walter White from Breaking Bad and Nancy Botwin from Weeds, Helen sees a secret life of crime as her only solution to the problem of making enough money to support her family, but also like them, she discovers that her decision is bound to catch up with her.
The writing is crisp, the characters (even the minor ones) interesting, and the tension ratchets up with each turn of the page. I chewed off more than a few fingernails by the end. (I know, a bad habit) Lippman writes a crackling good novel, and I will be looking for more of her books when I'm in the mood for crime fiction.
rating 4.5 of 5