Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan books, provides some of the warmth and relaxation of supper with an old friend at a familiar restaurant. Picking up a stand-alone by the same author can have the zing of a new flame, laced with lively curiosity and that sense of risk, of not knowing quite what will happen.
Lippman's new crime novel, just released, is a stand-alone, with a familiar setting -- her own Baltimore, when her Tess Monaghan series takes place. But here's a new set of faces, a family of sorts: long-vanished Felix Brewer, who ran out of town when it seemed clear he was facing a 15-year sentence for his shady business practices; Felix's wife Bambi and their three daughters; and his equally abandoned mistress, Julie. And in that sense the book probes the effects of Felix's crimes and disappearance on five women.
But AFTER I'M GONE is also the narrative of cop-turned-"consultant" Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez. He's tackling Baltimore's cold cases, and when a photo of Julie, the stripper mistress, falls out of a folder, he feels like she's asked him to investigate -- because during the decades since Felix's disappearance, Julie was found dead, and her presumed murder has never been solved. Wouldn't you think Felix would have come back to get her, or else Bambi, or maybe slipped into the background for the graduation of one of his daughters? Maybe he did.
Lippman's comments about the book have focused on the five women who remain tied together by the vanished Felix Brewer. But it's also just as much about the way they draw men into their orbits ... and about how Sandy wrestles for the truths of their lives and eventually moves toward confronting the lies that have been in plain sight since more than a decade earlier.
This isn't a book to breeze through -- it has substance, it asks questions of us, it makes us tug at the threads until we're in a tug-of-war with a rope of old angers braided into dangerous force. Expect to spend more time here than with most crime fiction; it felt to me a lot like Karin Slaughter's tour-de-force Criminal. But it also reminded me how much I liked another of Lippman's (earlier) stand-alones, I'd Know You Anywhere. What she does in AFTER I'M GONE is similar: She shows us the weight of those years of multiple lives affected by a crime. And through characters we recognize, she makes it matter.
And that's why I keep reading her books.
Reminder: Tomorrow, second-mystery author Tempa Pagel visits here for a guest post, as she reflects on the start of her New Hampshire mystery They Danced by the Light of the Moon (Feb. 19 release). Come on back and check out the tale -- and the photos!