Laura Lippman's "And When She Was Good" offers a convincing portrait of a suburban escort service operator
You hear a lot about the inimitable style of crime writers like Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard, and about how Michael Connelly is as good as many literary novelists working today. What you hear less about is how Laura Lippman, between installments of her successful Tess Monaghan series, is producing one stand-alone novel after another that plumbs the complex relationship of women to crime and violence with unprecedented sophistication and intelligence.
Lippman’s latest is “And When She Was Good,” a title that saucily suggests the novel will be racier than it is. “And When She Was Good” is in essence a character study, though the basic thread of its plot does generate a good amount of suspense. The character is Heloise Lewis, the proprietor of an escort service and, in her late 30s, a working prostitute.
Heloise is also a single mom, ensconced in a landscaped home in suburban Maryland, where she raises her son, Scott, with the implacable determination to give him everything — an education, physical safety, respect — that she was denied. Scott’s father, Val, Heloise’s scary former pimp, is serving a life sentence for murder. Though she still visits him regularly, Val has no idea that Scott exists, or that Heloise was the informant who put him away. The thrum of menace running through “And When She Was Good” begins when she learns that another “suburban madam” has died under suspicious circumstances and that part of the evidence convicting Val may be overturned, freeing the man she fears most.
The bulk of “And When She Was Good,” however, is taken up with how Heloise came to this point in her life and how she runs her business. The narrative toggles between past and present, between a girl whose fate was largely determined by men — an abusive father, an addict boyfriend, the imperious Val — to one who has established a solid, if vulnerable control over her own fate. There’s a lot of fascinating brass-tacks details about how to launder money (in a bit of local humor, Lippman makes one of Heloise’s front businesses a lobbying firm) and wrangle a skittish clientele. There’s not, however, very much about sex because what Lippman wants to keep front and center is that Heloise came to and remains in the sex trade for purely economic reasons.
Like the men who hire her, Heloise lives a highly compartmentalized life. She’s polite but distanced with the neighborhood moms, who, naturally, don’t know what she really does for a living. And none of her clients — not even the lobbyist with whom she’s become friendly and whose advice she seeks — know about her kid. Lippman expertly conveys the acute vigilance that this level of secrecy demands from the exquisitely groomed Heloise; she’s never entirely at her ease and she has no real friends. You wonder how Heloise can live this way, but as the secrets of her past unfold you see how experience has led her to believe that she has no other choice.
Linda Emond, who has narrated a few other Lippman stand-alones, does a credible job with this one. The narration’s close adherence to Heloise’s point of view doesn’t give her much to work with — Heloise is a very controlled woman. Revisiting some snippets from Emond’s performance of Lippman’s equally powerful 2010 novel, “I’d Know You Anywhere,” about the dark past of another suburban mom, revised my appreciation of what Emond does with “And When She Was Good.” The variations in her performances can be very subtle, but they are always true to the material.
I’m by no means an expert on the subject of prostitution, but as a journalist I’ve interviewed several sex workers at length. As a rule memoirs by women who have done the work present the most authentic picture, but with “And When She Was Good,” Lippman adds the rare novel to a short and essential shelf.
* * *
New to Audible? Listen to “And When She Was Good” for free, or check out a sample.
More Related Stories
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- Stephen Colbert to UVA: "You must always make the path for yourself"
- "Game of Thrones," season 3, episode 8: A salon
- Bieber booed, Miguel falls on fan at Billboard Awards
- "Mad Men" recap: Love, acid and whores. Lots of whores
- Taylor Swift leads Billboard winners
- “Game of Thrones” recap: “We must do our duty”
- "The Unwinding": What's gone wrong with America
- Michael J. Fox wins: The best and worst of the new fall shows
- First look: The Coens' marvelous folk-music odyssey
- New York's most persecuted subway artist?
- James Franco: "I really felt I was in conversation with Faulkner"
- "Jodorowsky's Dune": The sci-fi classic that never was
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
The Listener is Salon's new weekly audiobook review column, where Laura Miller and other top critics will recommend a great new title for you to plug into. So stay tuned -- and come back every Thursday for a new installment.