Laura Lippman, Wilde Lake (Faber & Faber, 2016)
Opening paragraph: “When my brother was eighteen, he broke his arm in an accident that ended in another man’s death. I wish I could tell you that we mourned the boy who died, but we did not. He was the one with murder in his heart and, sure enough, death found him that night. Funny how that works”.
I couldn’t resist quoting the first few lines of Laura Lippman’s Wilde Lake, as they constitute one of the best openings I’ve read in a while. How could anyone not want to read on?
Wilde Lake was my first book of 2017, which I found while browsing Crime Time‘s Top 20 of 2016. One of the reasons I was drawn to it – aside from the opening – was my enjoyment of another Lippman novel, After I’m Gone. Wilde Lake is a similarly engrossing, high-quality crime novel, whose key strength is the depth of its characterisation, and its ability to draw a portrait of family and community life in rich, convincing detail.
The novel is set in Columbia, Maryland, and in some respects pays homage to the author’s childhood home – Lippman grew up there and attended Wilde Lake High School. The narrative has two timelines: the present, in which 45-year-old Luisa (Lu) Brant takes on a murder case in her capacity as the state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland, and the past (1980 onwards), narrated by Lu herself, which may or may not have a link to present-day events. We’re given an intimate portrait of Brant family life, and in particular the dynamic between Lu’s father, a distinguished attorney, her older brother AJ, and Lu as the only girl and the youngest in the family. There are shades of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Go-Between, where we see child narrators trying to interpret complex adult events to the best of their ability.
Wilde Lake was a thoroughly enjoyable way to start this year’s reading. I found myself being pulled equally into past and present events, and particularly liked the depiction of the capable and complex Lu. There was perhaps one reveal too many in the second half, but the ending was perfectly calibrated and provided plenty of food for thought.
Tomorrow’s going to be a tough day for many Americans. Hands across the pond, and remember to take care of yourselves. I’ll just leave this here: ‘Self-care tips for those who are terrified of Trump’s presidency’. It’s a good one to read if you’re going quietly mad about Brexit in the UK too.
I’m off to Berlin for a week, and am looking forward to enjoying spending time in a country that has competent politicians, a grown-up media, and excellent cake. Bis bald!
Have a lovely trip, Mrs. P.! And thanks for the good wishes. We will need them…. Also thanks for the fine review of this Lippman. She is really talented, and I’m pleased you liked this one.
Thanks, Margot. Thinking of you!!!
Lippman’s a wonderful writer, especially when it comes to depicting families. She nails the complex dynamics brilliantly. There are a few others of hers I need to catch up on. Treats for further down the road.
Having spent part of December in Berlin I’m with you all the way. As for tomorrow, I’m just glad I’m not American, though I don’t think that will necessarily save us.
Hi Stella – I think we’re right to be worried about the consequences of this presidency, as it will have an effect on all of us one way or another. It’s going to be a tough few years…
This sounds like an absolute cracker! Who wouldn’t want to read on after that beginning?
Indeed! Had me hooked straight away.
It’s on my to-be-read pile – darn those people at Crimetime, making lists that just force people to read things! Thanks for your take on this – I’ve not read a Lippman in a while, and now I’m in a hurry to get to it. And thanks too for the summery picture from Hadrian’s Wall, to remind us that January won’t last for ever.
I know! They really are little minxes over at Crime Time.
Hope you enjoy the Lippman, and yes, this too shall pass (the sooner the better).
Oh, but what damage can be done before it passes. Already, some executive order to scale back the health insurance law President Obama propomoted. Millions have health care under this law. I dread to think.
The good part is that half a million women and men marched in Washington, D.C. yesterday, 200,000 in my city, 150,000 in Chicago, 125,000 in Boston. Thousands more elsewhere and abroad all over the world. That is the wonderful news.
But I have to admit am eating way too much chocolate in all forms. Read Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw in the past week which took up some of my focus, and am trying hard to ignore anything but good news.
Photos of women marching internationally are energizing me.
You’re absolutely right, Kathy – I’m reminded of this point every time I visit Germany and ponder the legacy of its 20th-century history. But like you I was filled with hope by the women’s marches and the wonderful images from around the world. Incredibly inspiring.
I discovered Lippman last year thanks to this book and I have to admit I now want to read all of her books. I thought Wilde Lake is a very American novel, in a good way. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well, Mrs.P. I love it when our tastes overlap xxx
I love that she creates a completely original, detailed world in each standalone novel. She has a series too, featuring PI Tess Monaghan. I’ve just started the first one, Baltimore Blues, and am enjoying.
As a super fan of series, I should check them as soon as possible, then. Thanks for the rec x
Great review, I keep seeing this in library and being drawn to it, will give it a go. Also thanks for the link to the Crime Time list, a really helpful one!