Synopsis: 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 dreamsif 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 lifeagain. 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.
Random Quote: He gave her books, shabby ones that were going to be tossed or sold. She smuggled them back to Val’s house in her purse and hid them on the property. There were books concealed everywhere, and although she didn’t dare read them in front of everyone, it gave her a thrill to walk past one of the hiding places. She had a secret. She realized she hadn’t had any secrets for a long time, and there was power in being able to keep something to herself, for herself. Her secrets were the only things she really owned.
Review: I always enjoy Laura Lippman‘s books – series or standalone. And When She Was Good is her latest standalone and I loved it. Through the character of Heloise, Lippman gives a voice to a woman who is in some living with the consequences of a single bad choice and in others ways rising above those consequences even while swimming in them like a shark.
|Baltimore woman arrested for prostitution – 1968 (image source)|
Heloise had a terrible relationship with her father and watched her mother do the same. In the end, her mother’s devotion to her father far outstripped her devotion to her own daughter and this haunts the book and Heloise’s life. As a teenager she becomes involved with the (very) wrong man. She runs away with him and begins stripping and then hooking to support his drug habit. Desperate for a way out she turns to Val, a pimp and all-around criminal, who rescues her from her first love. In return she is Val’s very careful favorite – at the top of a hierarchy of girls who take in-call or walk the streets.
At the time of our story Val is in prison and she is running a high-end out-call service – very discreet – and the precariousness of her carefully built life becomes apparent. Things are going wrong, people from her old life are popping up dead, and she’s not sure she can keep herself and her son safe. She longs for something different – a legitimate business – yet doubts her ability to make that step.
Ms. Lippman brings the reader into Heloise’s world with great ease, treating her character as a real person rather than as the cardboard cutout stereotype that most people imagine apply to prostitution. This is less a crime book and more a character portrait and I loved every single word. Heloise is a woman I could relate to and her plight isn’t that different than the plight of many women who live in circumstances that lead them to poor choices – the wrong man —> drugs or alcohol —> abuse of one kind or another —> illness —> underemployment, and on and on. It’s good for us all to remember that no matter the situation the person in it is a human being who once had all the shining potential that children have before the real world either elevates or stomps all over them. Just one misstep – that all it takes. Highly recommended.
FTC Disclosure: Copy from publisher for review as a part of the author’s virtual book tour through TLC Book Tours
Publishing Information: William Morrow – August 14, 2012
I am pleased to be a part of Ms. Lippman’s virtual book tour through TLC Book Tours. Be sure to stop by the other tour sites for more opinions on her latest book.