Lady in the Lake

Written by Laura Lippman
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Madeline Schwartz is the perfect 1960s housewife, but when boredom and dissatisfaction set in, she leaves her husband, son, and an affluent life of comfort to move to an apartment in a run-down Baltimore neighborhood.  Heady in her new independence, she begins a passionate affair and seeks out meaning for her new life.  In 1966, two deaths in the city change the course of Maddie’s life toward a new career in journalism.  First, eleven-year-old Tessie goes missing, and Maddie, as a volunteer searcher, finds her body.  Second, the body of Cleo is found in the lake after being missing for months.

Lippman brings the atmosphere of the 1960s to life, especially society’s efforts to keep women and black people within their designated places.  We also see the disparity between the treatment of the disappearance and death of Tessie, a white child, and Cleo, a black woman.  Tessie’s fate makes headlines, and an active investigation results in the capture of her murderer.  No one cares about what happened to Cleo.  Her death only warrants a short piece hidden in the pages of the Star, and there is no active investigation.  Maddie’s interest in the murders leads her to a job at the Star in a man’s world.  She is disappointed at being assigned the lowly job of assisting “Mr. Helpline,” but this doesn’t stop her.  On her own time, she finds resourceful ways to interview people associated with both crimes.  She wants her stories published and Cleo’s murder solved.

The novel is told in multiple points of view by Maddie and the numerous people she encounters.  The dead Cleo speaks throughout as an omniscient narrator.  Each narrator has a distinct voice, and Lippman’s skill is seen in the added dimension this structure brings to the plot.  This smart, page-turning thriller propels the reader to a satisfying ending.