And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

February 17, 2014

and-when-she-was-good Plot summary (from the publisher): Perennial New York Times and nationally bestselling author and acclaimed multiple–prize winner Laura Lippman delivers a brilliant novel about a woman with a secret life who is forced to make desperate choices to save her son and herself.

When Hector Lewis told his daughter that she had a nothing face, it was just another bit of tossed-off cruelty from a man who specialized in harsh words and harsher deeds. But twenty years later, Heloise considers it a blessing to be a person who knows how to avoid attention. In the comfortable suburb where she lives, she’s just a mom, the youngish widow with a forgettable job who somehow never misses a soccer game or a school play. In the state capitol, she’s the redheaded lobbyist with a good cause and a mediocre track record.

But in discreet hotel rooms throughout the area, she’s the woman of your dreams—if you can afford her hourly fee.

For more than a decade, Heloise has believed she is safe. She has created a rigidly compartmentalized life, maintaining no real friendships, trusting few confidantes. Only now her secret life, a life she was forced to build after the legitimate world turned its back on her, is under siege. Her once oblivious accountant is asking loaded questions. Her longtime protector is hinting at new, mysterious dangers. Her employees can’t be trusted. One county over, another so-called suburban madam has been found dead in her car, a suicide. Or is it?

Nothing is as it seems as Heloise faces a midlife crisis with much higher stakes than most will ever know.

And then she learns that her son’s father might be released from prison, which is problematic because he doesn’t know he has a son. The killer and former pimp also doesn’t realize that he’s serving a life sentence because Heloise betrayed him. But he’s clearly beginning to suspect that Heloise has been holding something back all these years.

With no formal education, no real family, and no friends, Heloise has to remake her life—again. Disappearing will be the easy part. She’s done it before and she can do it again. A new name and a new place aren’t hard to come by if you know the right people. The trick will be living long enough to start a new life.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I liked how Lippman showed that no matter what Heloise did to improve herself (taking online business classes, reading through endless lists of “great books,” etc.) she would always be dismissed as “just a whore” by those that knew her. That seemed like a fairly realistic, albeit harsh, reaction — and was actually a lot more believable than if Heloise were to miraculously turn into a great lobbyist.
  • Despite the nonlinear time line that wove numerous flashbacks into the main narrative (a technique I normally don’t like), I found that Lippman was able to hold my attention more often than not. This book only had a few slow spots, and those didn’t last very long at all.
  • I thought Lippman’s portrayal of Heloise’s interactions with the other mothers was very accurate. I’m in much the same situation (not because of my job, lol), and could instantly identify with how Heloise felt: more comfortable standing near the fathers; wanting to remain aloof, yet at the same time feeling hurt that her aloofness was so readily accepted). Everything rang true.

Disliked:

  • Heloise wasn’t a very interesting character. I mean, I was definitely rooting for her to get the upper hand over Val, but she was so bland and blase about everything that I often felt I had more of a stake in what was happening in her life than she did.
  • For someone who was supposedly smart, Heloise acted very stupidly. How could she possibly think that Val didn’t know exactly what was going on in her life? He was so controlling before he went to prison that there’s no way he would relinquish that control just because he was locked away. He had money coming in, and I have no doubt that he used that money on investigators/his brother to track Heloise from time to time to make sure she wasn’t holding out on him. How could Heloise think anything, let alone something as big as a child, could be kept from Val???
  • Speaking of Val, why did Heloise stay in the general vicinity and keep visiting him for all those years? Yes, I can see how she might do so initially, as he was her abuser and she felt she had nowhere else to go. But after getting set up with her service and learning how to run it, there’s no reason she couldn’t have disappeared and replicated the business model anywhere else in the country. And if she had acted quickly enough, the whole “Scott wants to stay in school with his friends” argument would have been moot.

Rating:

I primarily know Lippman from her Tess Monaghan series, but have to say that I think her standalones might be even better. I wasn’t exactly blown away by And When She Was Good, but it’s better than what the author contributes to the dime-a-dozen amateur P.I. genre. This book, despite an often boring main character, was entertaining enough to make me want more from Lippman outside of the Tess world. I give And When She Was Good 3 stars out of 5.

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