The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

Written by Ariel Lawhon
Review by Marina Maxwell

The Jazz Age. Bootleggers. Gangsters. Corruption. Crime. Tammany Hall. All these ingredients have been used in novels many times, but Ariel Lawhon takes a fresh approach and presents them from primarily female points of view. Her novel is based on the famous true-life disappearance in 1930 of Judge Joseph Crater, who left behind his wife, mistress, and maid. Each woman has her own secrets, and it is through their individual relationships with Crater, his associates, enemies, and the police, that we learn what might have happened to him.

In 1969, retired cop Jude Simon hopes to finally crack the mystery when he meets dying Stella Crater in a run-down bar, where she has gone on every anniversary of her husband’s disappearance. We are then transported back to various events that took place in 1930 and 1931, both before and after the Judge went missing.

Sally Lou Ritz is the beautiful mistress, a country girl seduced by the glamour of show business and powerful men, and Maria Simon is the Spanish-American part-time maid who also works as a tailor and sews suits for gangsters.

The atmosphere is excellent, and the author’s endnotes are a special bonus for anyone unfamiliar with this particular history. However, covert dealings with brown envelopes, coincidences (Maria is the wife of the investigating cop) and accidental encounters between the women in powder rooms can make it feel a bit too contrived in places. The rapidity of the pre- and post-disappearance flashbacks may frustrate some readers, and they may need to backtrack through certain episodes to get their bearings. This style of storytelling often works better in screenplays, and there is every possibility that this will become a great movie vehicle for an ensemble of female actors.