Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-208339-5
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages
Laura Lippman writes suspense novels with great characters. Her last book, And When She Was Bad, told the story of a suburban soccer mom who ran an escort service. Her newest, After I'm Gone, tells the story of the disappearance of Felix Brewer, a man who was a bookie, ran a strip club and when he is convicted in connection with his criminal activities, disappears, leaving behind a wife, three young daughters and a mistress.
When his mistress disappears nearly ten years later to the day, questions once again arise about Felix. Did he send for his mistress Julie, the woman he left his only legitimate business to when he disappeared? Why did he leave no money behind for his wife Bambi and his three daughters?
Julia's dead body turns up in the woods near Felix and Bambi's home, and this cold case ends up in the lap of Sandy Sanchez, an investigator/consultant for the District Attorney's office. Sandy chooses to pursue whatever cases he thinks he can solve, and Julie Saxony's intrigues him.
He meets with her sister Andrea, who is believed to have helped Julie help Felix disappear. Andrea knows more than she is telling, but does she know who killed her sister?
The story moves back in forth in time, from 1976 when Felix disappears, to 1991 when Julie's body turns up, to 2012, when Sandy begins his investigation. We get to see Bambi go from a teen in the throes of young love with Felix, to a lonely wife waiting for her husband to come home from the club to mom to three girls to a desperate woman struggling to maintain some kind of life for her girls to a fiercely protective mom and grandmother.
We see Felix and Bambi's girls grow up- Linda and Rachel, who remember their father, and Michelle, who was too young when Felix disappeared. Linda has a good job, marries and has children and seems to have settled into a life she likes.
Rachel marries a guy she met in college. He was from a wealthy family who were none to happy to have Rachel and her notorious family story incorporated into their family. Her marriage doesn't work out, and Rachel ends up back home for awhile. Michelle seems to be floating through life, with no career or husband.
While the the women's stories over the years are fascinating, Sandy has an intriguing one as well. He and his wife have a son, who ended up in an institution. His wife dies, and as she had a relationship with their son and Sandy did not, he is all alone.
After Sandy interviews a woman who is caring for her debilitated husband, he thinks about his life. One of the saddest lines in the entire book concerns his wife Mary and son Bobby, now an adult.
"Would Sandy have traded for more time with Mary if it had meant being with someone who wasn't really Mary? Would he have traded Bobby-as-he-was, now in his thirties and lost to him, for a normal Bobby who died at age five? You can rewrite your life all you want, Sandy thought. It's still a play where everyone dies in the end."Another line that got to me was "They say you're only as happy as your least happy child". Boy, does that line resonate for any parent.
The suspense builds slowly, and throughout most of the novel, it remains in the back of the reader's mind as you get lost in the characters' lives. As Sandy closes in on Julie's killer, the tension builds and you remember, yes, it is a murder mystery that needs to be solved. And the solution is a doozy; after a few red herrings, it all comes together in a nail-biting conclusion.
Fans of Lippman's novels featuring Private Investigator Tess Monaghan will be pleased to see a cameo of her here, and maybe looking forward to Sandy and Tess working together in a future book.
I loved the characters, the story and the resolution, and once again Lippman has hit it out of the park.
rating 4 of 5 stars
My review of And When She Was Bad is here.