Like the protagonist in Lippman's last book - the excellent Sunburn - Maddie Schwartz, a 37 Jewish year-old housewife, leaves her husband and child and sets out looking for excitement, this time in a deftly depicted mid-60s Baltimore.
Not that she goes far, simply moving into a small apartment in a less desirable part of town.
Out of her staid marriage Schwartz is giddy with the freedom, but suddenly without means. After a failed attempt to sell her engagement ring she resorts to faking a burglary. Soon she's involved with the black policeman who responds to her cries for help.
By the end of the novel she's fashioned a career, a life and a peace of sorts, but this isn't exactly a tale of female empowerment.

Lippman, who says she wrote another period piece after the surreal political climate became too frantic for her to consider setting the book in contemporary America, goes for more.
What appears first as a domestic tale, soon segues into a whodunit, which in turn opens up into a portrait of an entire city from the top on down.
Lippman looks at gender power imbalances, moral responsibility, racism, politics, sexuality and newspapers (Lippman was a longtime journalist in Baltimore and elsewhere); a period piece, yes, but clearly informed by today's headlines.

In Lady in the Lake Lippman again pushes the crime novel forward into interesting, complicated places

Schwartz herself is a smart, manipulative and hard-to-like character, a proto-feminist adept at using her charms to get what she wants.
There are two murders in the book but much of this revolves around the murder of a black waitress Cleo Sherwood whose body is found in a fountain (hence the title), a crime that goes largely unreported until budding reporter Schwartz starts nosing around.
Ever resourceful she sees an opportunity to not only gain a promotion, but also derive some meaning in her own life through searching for the perpetrator.
Throughout Lippman swerves from the regular thriller momentum with a series of soliloquy-like chapters from Sherwood and others Schwartz encounters in her single-minded search; from an anonymous guy in a movie theatre who tries to grope her to a black waitress who serves her at a restaurant - "This woman is like a dog stalking a squirrel, her body all a-quiver. Whenever I see a dog like that, I wonder: What do you want with a squirrel? You're well-fed, it's not going to taste that good."
If the ambitions of the book sometimes overwhelm the narrative energy this only underlines how so much crime fiction settles too easily.
In Lady in the Lake Lippman again pushes the crime novel forward into interesting, complicated places. As Schwartz discovers - sometimes solving the mystery is the worst thing you can do.

Laura Lippman's latest looks at racism and gender politics in a marvellous new thriller set in 1960s Baltimore. Pic Getty.
Laura Lippman's latest looks at racism and gender politics in a marvellous new thriller set in 1960s Baltimore. Pic Getty.

Lady in the Lake
Laura Lippman
(Faber $32.99)

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