Baltimore bookie Felix Brewer is the gone guy in After I’m Gone (Morrow, review copy), Laura Lippman’s artful novel of character and family, mystery and murder. When Brewer faces prison in July 1976, he chooses to disappear for parts unknown, leaving behind his beautiful wife Bambi and their three young daughters, as well as his mistress, former showgirl Julie Saxony. All of their lives are forever shaped by the absence of charismatic Felix. Bambi is forced to turn to her husband’s best friend, a wealthy attorney, for ongoing financial help, believing that Felix is still supporting Julie at the expense of her family. And when Julie vanishes 10 years after Felix, it’s generally assumed that he sent for her at last — until her body is found some months later at a local park. Still, her murder remains a cold case until 2012, when retired Baltimore detective Sandy Sanchez begins investigating as a consultant.
As in such past novels as I’d Know You Anywhere, Lippman smoothly slips among multiple perspectives and time periods, steadily building suspense as she peels away layers of deceit. Lyrics from the 1950s song “Never Let Me Go” signal each section: “Hold me” “Thrill Me” “Miss Me” “Tell Me.”
Bambi, still lovely at 73, has always been good at keeping secrets. Her grown daughters — working mom Linda, smart, needy Rachel and pretty, selfish Michelle — have inherited that trait, as well as a stubborn belief their father will return. Sandy eventually discovers that all of the Brewer woman had motive and possible opportunity to do away with ambitious Julie, who so believed that Felix would marry her one day that she converted to Judaism.
Sandy, who has his own haunted past, thinks, “we tend to order things according to the reality we know, as we discover it. All life is hindsight, really, stories informed by their endings.” You can keep that in mind as After I’m Gone reaches resolution — and also that Lippman is so very good at misdirection. The coda — “Never Let Me Go” — is perfect.
In 1920, London is still shadowed by the Great War. The reminders are everywhere, as maimed veterans sell small items door-to-door or park their wheelchairs on street corners. And they’re the lucky ones. A generation is buried in France and Belgium, leaving behind grieving wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers. Anna Hope’s sad and lovely first novel Wake (Random House, digital galley) unfolds over five days in November as Britain awaits the arrival of the coffin of the Unknown Warrior. Hope traces the journey of this anonymous soldier from his grave in France to London on Armistice Day in a series of italicized passages, but her narrative focuses on three women living with loss.
Hettie’s a dance hall girl, whose share of her sixpence-a-dance wages goes to support her widowed mother and shell-shocked brother. At a nightclub, she encounters a handsome veteran who perhaps will be her ticket to a new life. Evelyn, a bitter spinster whose fiance was killed in the war, immerses herself in work at the Pensions Bureau and wonders how her adored brother seemingly shrugs off the horrors he saw as an officer in the trenches. Ada remains so haunted by the death of her only son Michael that she neglects her husband and life itself. Over the course of the book, Hope delicately reveals the devastating wartime tragedy that unknowingly links the three women.
At one point, Ada stands outside at twilight, watching her neighbors at work in their kitchens. She finds it odd looking “at the rhythms and routines of life. It suddenly seems so clear. Some contract has been broken. Something has been ruptured. How have they all agreed to carry on?”