Skip to main content

I enjoyed Laura Lippman's novel When She Was Good, which was a stand alone that some fans of her Tess Monaghan series did not care for. What I liked was the portrait she drew of a modern day suburban madam and a possible route that a woman takes to that particular destination.

What I have appreciated about Lippman's work is how fully she develops the women in her books. Sadly, that is not as common as one would expect, considering how many women are appearing in crime novels other than cozies. She does it again in When I'm Gone, with five different women, and how time, struggle and loss change them all.

After I'm Gone
by Laura Lippman
Published by William Morrow
February 11th 2014
352 pages
"Did you know the more we tell a story, the more degraded it becomes? Factually, I mean. It’s like taking a beloved but fragile object out of a box and turning it over in your hands. You damage it every time.”

Lippman, Laura (2014-02-11). After I'm Gone: A Novel (p. 143). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

On July 4, 1976, Felix Brewer, rather than face trial on racketeering charges, disappeared with the help of his mistress, stripper Julie Saxony and her sister, who smuggled him out of Baltimore on the floor of a horse trailer. He left behind a wife and three daughters in addition to said mistress.

Exactly ten years later, his mistress Julie, who has by now, sold the coffee shop Brewer signed over to her, and is a successful and respected business owner, also disappears. Fifteen years after that, in 2001, her body is discovered. She had been shot through the head. Her murderer is never found and the case goes cold.

Enter Sandy Sanchez in 2012, a retired cop working cold cases for the Baltimore PD. A recent widower, he is still mourning the loss of his wife and adjusting to his new reality. Lippman provides enough backstory to suggest that he may become a character in a new series, or perhaps one in her Tess Monaghan series. He provides the minimalist structure for the murder investigation, but never stands out as a character in his own right.

Perhaps that is as it should be, because this book is about the women Felix Brewer left behind. Bambi Brewer, a beauty that a younger Felix swept off her feet in 1959, while crashing a school dance, is left to raise their three daughters. She had never worried about money, as Felix had provided very well for his family, even if the manner in which he did it involved strip joints and running a numbers racket. His was a "nighttime business," he told her.

Smart and determined, Bambi didn't last a semester at Bryn Mawr, realizing that her future lay with a husband and family. And she excelled as a wife and mother, at least until her husband disappeared. Felix left no explanation for Bambi who did not know if he was dead or alive. With no closure, and no resources, she was forced to go on living and raising the girls, Linda who was sixteen, Rachel, fourteen, and Michelle, only three years old when their father vanished.

With a very complex timeline, the story switches back and forth between the years as well as the points of view, allowing us to share with these women their growth and change. We see Julie, two years into her affair with Felix, studying Judaism and finally converting as a gift to him. And we watch his daughters grow up as their mother works hard to provide some sense of normalcy. And all the while, we wonder which one would kill another.

It is an intriguing read, with a very satisfying conclusion. Unlike most fictional characters, none of these five women is purely a heroine or a villain. And that fact alone may make it hard to select one to cheer for and identify with. Yet there is something admirably refreshing about women who are both good and bad, and who can be just as complicated as any male protagonist, or adversary.

More a character study than a pulse pounding mystery, the suspense is strongest towards the end of the book, when one surprise twist follows another to an unexpected, but totally fitting and perfect, ending.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
Sun (occasional) 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
TUE - alternate weeks 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
Tue - alternate weeks 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left Kit RMP, bigjacbigjacbigjac
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
alternate Fridays 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site