Laura Lippman has the ability to put together a mystery plot like a tightly stitched patchwork quilt with a mixture of fabulous fabrics that you want to wrap yourself in and never let go. I get to the end of one of her books and am always amazed at how the story comes together with twists and turns around amazingly real characters that are fleshed out in revealing layers. This is particularly the case in her 2014 novel After I’m Gone.
The story easily jumps around a time period spanning several decades of family life, albeit a unique family life. Told from the perspective of five different family members and a few additional key characters, each reveals human qualities that bring out the best and worst innermost workings of heart and soul.
It’s a story of love, greed and betrayal as Felix Brewer creates a life of luxury for Bambi Gottschalk and their three daughters with somewhat shady business dealings that eventually catch up with him. He takes the chicken’s way out, avoids the penitentiary, leaving behind his family and a lover, along with a briefcase full of instructions and clues to where enough money is stashed to keep them living in style. But his family never knows about that briefcase and are left wondering if his mistress is the only one he cared enough about to provide something to sustain her in the wake of his departure. When she disappears exactly ten years after Felix vanished, it’s assumed that she has joined him on some tropical island. Years later her body is discovered. That discovery brings out secrets the Brewer women have kept from each other that nearly cost them all, until one of Felix’s women puts it all together. She finds that long-held desire created the mess and robbed her family of a life they deserved.
After I’m Gone is an excellent read, a complex mystery that won’t disappoint. The reader is likely to be slapping their forehead as the story unfolds in the end. I find myself doing that often at the end of Lippman’s books. I particularly like her standalone novels, but her Tess Monaghan series is also worth every turn of the page.
In full disclosure here, I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Lippman years ago. I attended “Of Dark and Stormy Nights,” a conference held in Chicago by Mystery Writers of America. I was fascinated to hear one of my favorite writers explain her craft, but absolutely delighted when we happened to share a shuttle to O’Hare Airport at the end of the conference. And, of course, I took a few precious moments of her time and shared a story idea I had brewing in my brain. She told me to go for it, to write the book about a corrupt prison system, a serial killer and a reporter from the Ozark Mountains who puts it all together. That book, A Lovely County, is coming out in a few months, and I’d like to thank Laura Lippman for encouraging me to get it written. I can only hope to be a Lippman kind of writer that keeps readers enthralled until the final page.