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Lady in the Lake: Book summary and reviews of Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Lady in the Lake

by Laura Lippman

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman X
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
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  • Published in USA  Jul 2019
    352 pages
    Genre: Thrillers

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Book Summary

The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline "Maddie" Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she's bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city's afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie's going to find the truth about Cleo's life and death. Cleo's ghost, privy to Maddie's poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie's investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

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Media Reviews

"Lippman's fans will devour this sophisticated crime novel, which captures the era's zeitgeist while painting a striking portrait of unapologetic female ambition." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The story is bigger than the crime, and the crime is bigger than its solution, making Lippman's skill as a mystery novelist work as icing on the cake...The racism, classism, and sexism of 50 years ago wrapped up in a stylish, sexy, suspenseful period drama about a newsroom and the city it covers." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Riveting…This is a superb character study, a terrific newspaper novel, and a fascinating look at urban life and racial discrimination in the '60s." - Booklist (starred review)

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Reader Reviews

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You will love this book!
Well written, excellent characters!


A sophisticated, absorbing mystery from beloved author Laura Lippman
Acclaimed, best-selling author Laura Lippman uses a real-life unsolved drowning as the springboard for her new thriller, set in Baltimore in the turbulent mid-1960's.

The world is changing rapidly. Societal norms are being challenged. And thirty-seven-year-old Maddie Schwartz is no longer content to sit on the sidelines in her comfortable home with her dull, but reliable husband, Milton, and seventeen-year-old son, Seth. Maddie did what was expected of her -- she married an attorney, keeps a kosher home, cares for her son, and hopes that no one ever finds out about the dark secret she harbors. Before she married Milton, she did not always conform.

When Milton brings home the local television reporter -- a man Maddie knew in high school -- something snaps and she realizes she needs to pursue the dreams she abandoned in favor of stability and acceptance. She leaves Milton, and rents an apartment downtown in a neighborhood that is suffering the ravages of "white flight" to suburbia. Seth refuses to join her there. An one day, the always-clever Maddie devises a scheme to improve her circumstances that has far-reaching consequences she could never have anticipated.

Meanwhile, the body of a young woman lies submersed in the fountain situated in the park surrounding a local lake. She is a missing person that no one is actually looking for, a young African-American woman who left her two young sons, fathered by two different men, with her parents to raise while she worked in the notorious Flamingo Club, tending bar and performing other duties better left unmentioned. She visits her sons and parents, brings them gifts, and leaves again, much to the dismay of her parents.

When Maddie and a friend discover the body of a missing eleven-year-old girl, she schemes to find a way to parlay her luck into a job as a reporter at the Baltimore Star. She gets a job, although not as a reporter, but will not be satisfied until she reaches her goal. She understands all too well that men control her destiny and will use any means necessary, including flirtation and trust of those who provide her tips, to achieve her goal.

Lippman knows Baltimore. She spent twelve years as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. Ironically, she says that she didn't set out to write a book in which much of the action is focused around a newspaper, noting that "Maddie Schartz surprised me as much as she surprised her longtime husband." Soon Lippman found herself interviewing her father's colleagues -- Theo Lippman Jr. was a journalist at the Baltimore Sun beginning in 1965 -- in order to get the details just right. Lady in the Lake is replete with historical and geographical references not just to the era, but Baltimore specifically. She even includes two real-lie people as characters in the book: the first African-American police officer in Baltimore, Violet Wilson Whyte who was known as Lady Law, and Oriole centerfielder Paul Blair.

The story is told by a series of narrators, primarily the lady in the lake herself and Maddie. But as Maddie encounters other characters, they are called upon to narrate the next chapter. Some reoccur, some only briefly contribute to the plot's progression. Lippman uses their voices to great effect to supply historical significance, context, and perspectives that balance Maddie's increasingly obsessive, and at times quite selfish, quest for the truth. Through her eclectic group of storytellers, Lippman explores not just the two killings, but racism, classism, and sexism, as well as the price that unbridled ambition can extract -- especially from a woman.

Lady in the Lake is a sophisticated and absorbing tale about a time and place not all that long ago that will leave readers pondering how much America has changed in the intervening years.

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Author Information

Laura Lippman Author Biography

Jim Burger

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. 

Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards.

She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade.

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