A few months ago I discovered American author Laura Lippman – a bit late to the party, I know – and I started following her on Twitter. She and Megan Abbott saw my confession and told me about Lippman’s upcoming stand-alone novel, Wilde Lake, to be published in the UK the 7th July by Faber Books. So, thanks to Laura I got in contact with Faber Books and they kindly sent me a review copy of Wilde Lake. Abbott suggested I would love it, and she was right.
Wilde Lake tells the story of Louisa ‘Lu’ Brant, newly elected – and first female! – State’s Attorney of Howard County (Maryland). Lu grew in Columbia and now she is back on the family home, where her father still lives, with her two young children. But returning home is not always an easy task, especially when Lu is occupying her father’s post, and she is back to her childhood home. But past and present meet when Lu investigates the murder of a middle-aged local waitress.
That is much as I am willing to give away in this review, because Wilde Lake is a legal thriller as much as a character study on female public servants, and what it means to grow up. Despite being forty-five, Lu is forced to face her past and to question it when she returns home. What happened to her mother? Why is her older brother a hipster? What happened to her husband? Was her time in Wilde Lake High School as easy and innocent as she remembers it?
Lippman makes an amazing job at creating a complex, and not always likable character. Lu has her own agenda, and she has no trouble following it, but she is fully aware of how female ambition is perceived by the general public, and how she should play her cards wisely if she wants to be re-elected:
The thing I had gotten wrong was showing how desperately I wanted to win. That was what I had to learn to conceal, what my father and AJ knew from birth: disguise your desire.
And she is the first female elected State’s Attorney, and she knows it. Throughout the novel, which is narrated in third person in the present, and Lu’s first person in her past, we are offered glimpses of what it means to be a female public servant. It is not unknown that women in politics are subjected to far more criticism and higher standards than their male counterparts. And Lu knows it:
Is Lu going to have to train people to knock, to remind her former colleagues that she’s the boss? Does it matter? Should they knock? Would a man worry about such things? Would he worry about the knock, or would he worry about telling people to knock?
Lu takes special care to make sure her expensive clothes do not look expensive.
The murder is also especial. For one thing, I think this is the first legal thriller that I read, and I loved the experience. Do not worry about getting lost, or not understanding the jargon. I had very vague notions of American law – which I confess comes from binge-watching Law & Order – and I had no problems following the plot. But, because I do not want to give much away, I will say that there are hints about how gendered a crime can be, and how times have changed regarding women’s treatment by public servants and the police. Lu also presents the reader with her father’s point of view, an old-fashioned one we could argue, and we are allowed to compare social and civil rights changes, but also how the general public is – or should be – more sensitive towards those crimes that involve women’s situation in a male-dominated society.
If, like me, you have never read anything by Laura Lippman, Wilde Lake is your perfect starting point. If you are already a fan of hers, you will know the high-quality to expect from both her writing, and the publishers. My review copy’s cover (pictured above) got compliments from more than one person because of its clever reminiscence of American high school aesthetics. In short, Wilde Lake is a complex legal thriller with dark and twisted glimpses into everyday, all-American small-town life.
This is review #2 for my 20 Books of Summer project