Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Laura Lippman: And When She Was Good

In one of her stand alone novels (that started out as a short story) Lippman explores that some decision will shape people and some will come back to haunt them:

Helen Lewis grew up in a abusive household, her father wanted to make sure that she did not have any advantage in the world and forces her to get a job while she is in high school. It is this job that set forth a series of events for Helen with her looking for love in all the wrong places and she finds herself working as a prostitute. Twenty years later Helen has changed her name to Heliose, has a son and has started her own business, but with no formal education she has stuck with what she knows. She has become a madam for a high class escort company and she thinks that she is safe, that no one can find her or her son. When Heliose sees a headline of another suburban madam who is murder, she does not think anything of it, but it appears that her past has come back to haunt her and she doesn't know who is chasing her.

I am unsure of how to classify this novel, I think that it is more of a contemporary novel, although I think it is supposed to be a mystery thriller book, it lacked some of the aspects that I associate with those genres. This novel is more about Heliose her past and present as we learn where the future is going to take here. There is a fringe mystery within the novel that pops in and out of the story but it really stays on the fringe for most of the book. It does affect some of Heliose's decisions and puts things into motion, but I don't think the reader ever feels the mystery or thrills that they would have if the novel was approached at a different angle. This is not to say I did not enjoy this book, the further I read the more I wanted to know about Heliose where she came from how she became a high class madam. This is the second book that I have read by Lippman and I enjoyed it more than the first book I read. I think that Lippman picked an interesting topic for this novel and while a part of me wished there was more thrills within this novel, I still enjoyed it.

I was not sure if I was going to like Helen/Heliose within the first few pages. She gave off the persona of believing that she is better than those around her, knows more than them and just over all pompous, it is not till you read farther into the novel, that you realize that she has created this persona in order to keep people at a distance to protect herself and her son. The more I read about Heliose, about her and her past and her business sense, I began to like her as a character. Lippman did a good job of showing how bad choices can define one's life but also how someone can overcome them. Overall, I see Heliose as a strong character (but also a dependent character as she does not realize her own internal strength) and “When she was good” she was really just looking for someone to love her and unfortunately this lead her to make some bad decisions, which I think many people can relate too.

Although this book is based upon Helen/Heliose being a prostitute and high class escort/madam Lippman did not have any sex scenes within the book. Yes there would be times when Helen would talk about having to perform sex or do sexual favours, but Lippman never went into any detail, which I appreciated. I think that Lippman showed restraint on this aspect, as based upon the topic and premise presented in the book; she could have very easily over done the sex.

Although this book was not quite what I expected and that includes the genre it is supposed to be part of it. I still found myself enjoying the story that Lippman had created. This is for those who are looking for more of a contemporary genre and not mystery or thriller.

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  1. I read this book last year and I have to say, it is further from the mystery/suspense angle than some of Ms. Lippman's earlier works. I have enjoyed those books, this one not as much, but it is still well-written. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree with you Rita. This book is not mystery/suspense book that it claims to be. All the mystery/suspense is really on the fringe of the book and the book is really more about Helen/Heliose.