And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman is a hugely famous author that, prior to this book, I had never heard of.  How does this happen?  She was even born in Atlanta, but grew up in Maryland.  That makes us practically cousins!  Turns out, she was a newspaper reporter before she turned author and I think that really shows in her writing style.  Did I mention she’s won nearly every award available to the mystery/crime/thriller novel genre?

And When She Was Good is a standalone novel featuring a suburban madam named Helen/Heloise.  Helen escapes her abusive father only to land in the hands of other not-so-nice men when she’s only a teenager.  To make ends meet, she becomes the darling escort to pimp, Val, where she becomes quite the professional prostitute.  Things get a bit shaky for Helen when she secretly helps the cops put Val behind bars for murder.  Thrust out into the world with very little money and no education, Helen transforms into Heloise and begins her own successful escort service in an upscale suburban neighborhood.  On top of an already risky business, Val acts as her silent partner from jail unaware that Heloise has given birth to their son.  Just when Heloise is getting comfy and a bit complacent, a neighboring suburban madam is found murdered.  Is Heloise next?

Lippman chooses the age-old dual narrative to tell Helen/Heloise’s story.  As we follow Heloise through her present day struggles and a sense of impending doom, every other chapter revisits her very unfortunate past as the sweet, smart Helen and focuses on how such a good girl could end up so far away from decency.  Normally, I’m not much for this narrative device, but Lippman’s obvious talent and ability help the two plots flow almost seamlessly throughout the novel.  And while I did tend to favor the Helen narrative, it never overshadowed the modern day story line.

What I loved most about And When She Was Good was being on the inside of the prostitution business.  So intriguing and page turning in and of itself.  The seedy underbelly of society is always so fascinating and I felt like Lippman had really done her research.  The details were superb and felt so true to life.  And despite such a typically shameful professional, Heloise and her girls aren’t the stereotypical prostitutes you come to expect.  They are hardworking women trying to support themselves with jobs that they are very good at.  Heloise runs her business strictly, professionally, and as safely as possible.  You come to respect her business savvy immensely.

A couple of things didn’t work so well for me.  First, I’m not sure what genre this novel fits into.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one for pigeon-holding anything into a neat and tidy box.  But I felt that this novel is being marketed as a mystery which is very misleading to me.  I guess there is a small mystery, but honestly, I knew who was behind everything from the get-go and I can’t imagine any other reader not figuring everything out early on either.  I’ve also seen the crime thriller catchphrase tossed around as well.  But again, I never felt on the edge of my seat.  To me,  And When She Was Good felt like a fictional memoir that highlighted the escort profession – the positives and the potential negatives.  And obviously, this blip is no fault of Lippman’s.

Lippman’s prose also threw me for a loop a couple times.  Sometimes she transitioned between characters or story sequences in one sentence rather abruptly.  I’d feel a bit lost and have to reread things over and over to figure out what had happened.  This issue could be entirely personal to my own  reading comprehension flaws, but it happened more than once throughout the book.  Just could have used some additional editing in my opinion, but nothing so bad that my reading experience was ruined.

I definitely recommend And When She Was Good to fans of Lippman and anyone else wanting to give her a try.  The plot is fascinating, the pacing page-turning, and the subject illuminating.  Great female characters that will challenge your preconceived notions and leave you with a strong sense of satisfaction when the last word is read.

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About the Author:  Laura Lippman grew up in Baltimore and returned to her hometown in 1989 to work as a journalist. After writing seven books while still a full-time reporter, she left the Baltimore Sun to focus on fiction. The author of two New York Times bestsellers, What the Dead Knowand Another Thing to Fall, she has won numerous awards for her work, including the Edgar, Quill, Anthony, Nero Wolfe, Agatha, Gumshoe, Barry, and Macavity.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest review! Don’t forget to check out the other blog stops here!

Shatter by Michael Robotham

Recently, I found myself cruising NetGalley needing something different – something lighter, yet darker all at the same time.  When I stumbled upon Shatter by Michael Robotham, I noticed that Stephen King had endorsed the story, citing it as his most suspenseful read of the year.  Trusting Mr. King, I clicked request.

Joe O’Loughlin’s first day of teaching psychology at a local university ends on a bridge trying to talk down a woman who’s perched to jump.  With a cell phone clutched to her ear, she explains to him that ‘he wouldn’t understand’ and throws herself into the icy waters below.  The next morning, Darcy, teenager claiming to be the suicide victim’s daughter, knocks on Joe’s door insisting that her mother would never kill herself, especially not jumping off a bridge as she was extremely afraid of heights.  Quickly, Joe realizes that whoever was on the other end of that cell phone coerced his victim into killing herself and he won’t be stopping there.

While I don’t entirely agree with Stephen King’s summation that this novel is intensely suspenseful, I did enjoy reading it from beginning to end.  I tend to shy away from mystery/thrillers because they start to feel a bit too plastic and procedural – both in writing and on screen.  Thankfully, Shatter felt fresh to me.  First, we’re following a trained psychiatrist who is observing the crimes through behavioral analysis which I find fascinating.  I can watch documentaries about serial killers and how their brains work all day long.  Knowing this about myself, I seek these sorts of books out when I’m in a particular mood, and the only crime procedural I watch on television is Criminal Minds which follows the behavioral analysis unit of the FBI.

Also, there are so many other interesting sub-plots here beyond the main catch a killer plot.  This aspect is highlighted by the fact that we know who the killer is halfway through the novel – we even get bits and pieces of narration from his perspective scattered throughout story.  This allows the reader to focus, not on figuring out whodunit, but the why and how it was actually done.  We’re also privy to Joe’s personal life – his battle with Parkinson’s disease, his crumbling marriage, his relationships with his daughters, and just the uncertainties experienced in middle life.

So, no, I’m not going to shout from the rooftops about Shatter, but I think it’s worth a read when you need something different or when you want to delve into a well written psychological thriller.  The pages turn freely and the only complaint I really had was how unlikeable Joe’s wife was – the story would have benefited from her character being a bit more sympathetic.  And don’t despair about this book being part of a series (Shatter is the third book).  I read without knowing this detail and never felt lost or that the back story was lacking.  Robotham is an author I’ll definitely turn to again when I need a little literary break.

Source:  Publisher via NetGalley