Lady in the Lake #BookReview

Laura Lippman | July 2019 | 311 pp

If I have to hear Negro, pronounced ’knee-grow’ one more time I swear before God and all things holy, I will never listen to this audiobook reader again! Ugh! 🤦🏾‍♀️

This scattered story is about Maggie Schwartz, a jewish woman in her 40’s, living in Baltimore in the late 60’s, having a mid-life crisis. Randomly, she decides to leave her husband and son, for an apartment in downtown B’more, to pursue a career in journalism. I say ‘randomly’ though in the book, the author launches a thought piece mid chapter, explaining to us that a lot of white women in that time left their boring lives of vodka, sleeping pills, financially restrictive and manipulative husbands, and spoiled kids, to live ‘independently’ and pursue their hopes and dreams of academia or a career. I suppose if this was in the clutch of the women’s movement, this could have been true but, the way its written here, isn’t doing the movement any favors. Maggie is a numb, selfish, self absorbed, bad mom and wife. Her ‘independence’ comes from a alimony check from her husband, cash from mommy dearest, and proceeds from insurance fraud. 🤦🏾‍♀️ Maggie tends to lie and manipulate the truth for her benefit. Hello, Karen, circa 1960.

Maggie secures an apartment on the outskirts of a diverse community she describes as barely respectable, due in part, we can assume, to the presence of other escaping single white Jewish Karens and Black people. Karen..errr Maggie, dives in head first however, gaining a bestie, Judith, and a black boyfriend Fergie, who happens to be a cop. Maggie lands a job at a local newspaper, ran by old, immature, bigoted and chauvinistic white men, where she is disrespected daily and reduced to little more than a coffee fetcher. Its because of this, and this only, she decides she needs to do something big to gain the attention and respect of her peers. What falls into her lap is the murder of young black woman, Cleo Sherwood. Cleo was a young, pretty party girl that most folks believe got caught up with the wrong crowd. Maggie thinks she can make her mark if she’s able to unravel the mystery around her murder.

Pros: The plot is fantastic. Mostly because right away, Cleo, the dead girl, starts speaking to us in first person and she reads our girl Maggie D.O.W.N. 😂 Cleo calls the spade for what it is- Maggie is searching for her murderer for her own benefit and Cleo wants to be left alone to rest in peace. To be fair, though I didn’t like Maggie, she was never really presented to be more than what I thought she was. She didn’t create the privilege, she’s just here to take advantage of it. And she does, at every turn.

Cons: Again, ‘knee-grow’…over and over and over…🤦🏾‍♀️ We get it. Your accessory du jour are Black people. To the authors credit depictions of black city life at the time were probably pretty accurate: voter suppression, corrupt political players, missing black girl goes unnoticed. Still though, black characters, primary in the story, never seem to get developed to the level of the lead character Maggie. This is what gives the impression shes using the culture as a means to create a story. I guess this raises the question of white writers telling black stories or writing black characters. 🤷🏾‍♀️ I don’t know the answer…but like the authors reasoning around Maggie leaving her family, the black community as backdrop to the story does nothing for the argument here.

A little research spills the story was inspired by the real life disappearance of Shirley Parker, a young black woman whose body was found in the fountain at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore in 1969. Shirley was a barmaid, secretary and model, twice divorced with 2 boys, living with her parents. After an argument with her boyfriend, she winds up missing and is later found decomposing in the lake. She became known as the ‘lady in the lake’. The case was never solved. Lippman doesn’t solve it either, though she draws heavily from the young woman’s story for this book. I don’t know fam, I didn’t like it. I think there are comparisons between Maggie and the author. Maybe Lippman needed a ‘big thing’ and she decided to use Shirley’s story to further her own agenda, similarly to Maggie. Lippman acknowledges Shirley’s story but, it falls flat for me.

Overall, 3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️ from me. Good plot and great execution but, minus a star for borrowing so heavily from a true crime and another for saying ‘knee-grow’ 900 times and getting on my damn nerves. 😒 Goodbook 38 of 46

StoryGraph Summary:

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star.Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.


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