Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
Lippman’s latest offering is an all-engrossing psycho-social thriller that investigates the reliability of memory, by telling a complex story where the past is re-investigated from the context of today.
Wilde Lake contains a split-narrative, where we see Lu [Luisa] Brandt, newly appointed as State Attorney for Howard County, a planned community in Columbia [which we would term a “New Town” in British vernacular]. Following the death of her husband; Lu Brandt returns to her childhood - both in terms of the physical location of her upbringing, and also in terms of where her early memories reside.
She moves back in with her father, Andrew Brandt, professionally following in his footsteps as he was also the State Attorney. Lu’s twin children are settled into the eponymous Wilde Lake, allowing her to focus on her job, with the shadow of her Father remaining in her mind, linking her past to her present. The darker shadow however is the tragedy of her late Mother, Adele who died shortly after Lu’s birth.
The parallel strand to this elegant tale concerns what Lu recalls of her childhood, and also what she pieces together from the recollections of others, and is related to a dark chapter in the lives of the Brandt family, specifically her older brother A.J. and the events of a High School Graduation party. The incident over the years has been rarely spoken of, as the family and their community moved on.
The community of Wilde Lake and the greater County have never seen the levels of violence and crime that older well established cities have endured, so the murder that involved Lu’s older Brother A.J. was shocking at the time. And in an analogous manner, the recent murder of Mary McNally [a local waitress] becomes a focal point and the first homicide case for the newly elected State Attorney, Lu Brandt; and unsettles the community in equal measure. A local man [and an odd one at that], Rudy Drysdale is implicated in the murder of the waitress. Lu’s mind sees the similarities to not only the High School incident that involved her older Brother, but also to some work that her Father was involved in when he held the chair of State Attorney.
The past comes back into view [and focus] from a perspective that diverges from Lu’s recollections and that of others. The plot is complex, but very well delineated for the reader, as the location that Lippman bases her action is evocatively realised. Special mention should be made of the deft characterisation for many minor characters, as well as major ones are painted with narrative flourish. And most crucially the hidden flaws in our own natures are slowly revealed within the characters that populate the community that is Wilde Lake.
There is also humour, much of it observational and restrained though at times, I did laugh and clap when the name of Lu’s clandestine lover [of sorts] is revealed, as it plays on onomatopoeia. I won’t spoil the dark joke here.
Though a slice of contemporary Americana, with one eye on the past, this novel is very relevant in Great Britain, for we too have our planned communities from after WW2, which we termed ‘new towns’, and which also exhibit problems that many of us try and conceal, for the well-being of community cohesion, as well as that of society in general, but in so doing, there will be a cost to pay, which for some will become difficult to reconcile.
It is apt the Lippman’s British publishers are Faber and Faber; as Wilde Lake fits into the literary end of the Crime-Thriller Genre, a niche that this renowned publisher is noted for [among others]. I mention this as I feel former journalist Laura Lippman’s tale is in my opinion one of the finest examinations of small town America, as well as a most ingenious mystery novel; one that will remain in the mind of the reader, long after the dénouement, for the truth sometimes is painful, like the bite of the family’s sleeping dog, awoken from deep slumber or the haunting song of a Mockingbird weeping for a past that only existed in our minds.
I predict it will appear on many award nominations in 2017.