Written by Laura Lippman — With a cabinet full of writing awards, and a bookshelf full of bestsellers, Laura Lippman is one of America’s top crime writers and has been for the last decade or so. She comes from a family of writers – her father was a journalist and she became one too, and she’s married to David Simon, creator of The Wire. She’s even appeared in an episode, and much of her own writing is set in the Baltimore area. Famous for her Tess Monaghan series, Wilde Lake is named after the high school Lippman attended, and being a standalone is great way to dip into her work for the first time.
Luisa ‘Lu’ Brant is a woman for whom family is everything. Her mother died just a week after her birth, and ever since then her world has revolved around her state’s attorney father and handsome, talented brother. She married and had twins, but the sudden death of her husband, Gabe, brought Lu back into the fold and she now shares the family home with her ageing dad and her young son and daughter.
As we first meet Lu, she is about begin her new job, following in her father’s footsteps to become the first female state’s attorney in Howard County, Maryland. She knows she is more than up to the challenge, and that confidence is put to the test in no time at all. Barely has Lu had time to warm her new desk seat than a rare murder is reported. A mentally disturbed drifter is accused of beating a woman to death in her own home. There aren’t may homicides in little Howard County, so Lu sees a chance to show off her skills and sets to work.
Family, tradition, history, truth and memories (both real and unreliable) are at the heart of this intriguing book. Lippman paints her scenes of close knit, small-town America with steady, assured strokes in a style that brought to mind the work of Anne Tyler. The narrative fades in and out of flashback with a seesawing timeline that is destined to keep you on your toes. At the heart of it all is Lu, often a bystander but always with something to add.
No cosy tale this one. Relax and go with the flow at your peril, because there’s a shocking revelation around every corner. Every time you think you’ve got a firm grip on where things are heading, your hand is destined to slip off the tiller as another damning secret is revealed.
Crimes of the past collide with those of the present as Lu begins to uncover some uncomfortable truths that threaten to shatter her world and her belief in the legal system. But at what point is it safe to stop digging and let those sleeping dogs lie?
Lipman exhibits a consummate skill in creating wholly believable characters. Lu herself starts off as a perfect woman, deftly balancing home life and dazzling career. But as the cracks begin to show, we begin to learn more about this multi-layered central figure and I found myself liking her all the more for her myriad flaws. She is surrounded by a populous cast of men and women, some of whom are peripheral and throwaway, other vital to the course of the plot. Whatever their roles, all are given life by this talented author.
The to-ing and fro-ing of the timeline in chapters, which have titles rather than being dated – makes it a bit confusing. On occasions had to take a step back and check out whether I was in the present or past, which ruins the reading flow and can prevent Wilde Lake from being engaging and engrossing. But there are revelations aplenty in a many-layered psychological thriller that will delight died-in-the-wool Lippman fans – and pick up some new recruits along the way.
Faber and Faber
CFL Rating: 4 Stars