Thursday, February 20, 2014

8 Heart Review: After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman

After I'm Gone
Laura Lippman
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Page Count: 352

Release Date: February 11th 2014
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

When Felix Brewer meets Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover—until her remains are eventually found.

Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women. And at the center is the missing man Felix Brewer.

Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.

Dead is dead. Missing is gone.

Inspired by the Salsbury fraud scandal of the 1970s, After I'm Gone explores how the enigmatic Felix Brewer's sudden disappearance echoes through lives of his wife, daughters, and mistress—the five women he loved and left behind. Both a legal thriller and dazzling sashay through a span of decades, Lippman's newest novel is elaborate, emotionally charged, and deeply probing.

In present-day Baltimore, as retired cop Sandy Sanchez reviews a cold case involving the murder of Julie Saxony—Felix's woman on the side—he notices there are discrepancies from every angle, from every testimony, and he can't help but grow intrigued by the seductive, unsolved story of Felix Brewer, his family, and how it could all be connected to a dead Julie Saxony. The novel slips in and out of each eventful decade, from the fateful Valentine's Day of 1959 when Felix and young, fresh-faced Bambi first met, to Felix's unannounced departure and the aftermath thereof, and finally, to Sandy's determined investigation. The toll Felix's desertion takes on Bambi—both financially and emotionally—as well as the way each of his well-fleshed daughters are affected, will raise great sympathy within readers, but will inevitably keep them on edge, itching to find out: how did Felix manage to leave without a trace, and why did he go without seeing to the well-being of his beloved family?

After I'm Gone is such a well crafted, well explicated mystery novel. It combines an elaborate, arduous tangle of lies, secrets, and even sacrifice, with a sharp, fast-paced procession of revelations. These continuous shifts, shocking discoveries, and impending truths never stop surprising you until the very end, which I think is a fabulous ploy. It's one of those books where you think you have everything figured out until—bam!—something happens halfway through and changes the entire plot, and then, at the last few chapters, the same thing happens again—and again, and again—bam! bam! bam! The intimate, perplexing glimpses into the lives of the Brewer women through the years of a husbandless and fatherless development really bring the story to life. The way Felix's betrayal affects his daughters' marriages, senses of dignity, and identities transforms this high-stake detective novel into one with human disparities—faults of the flesh—and that's what made it so powerful for me.

There's a purposefully vague, but consistently dark and pressing tone to the novel that's both eventful and stylistically entertaining. Readers remain in the dark about Felix's character, which makes him even more puzzling; but then again, it doesn't really matter because it's his reverberations that make up this book, not the man himself. This is the first Laura Lippman mystery I've read, but based off her commanding voice and complicated, wrenching storylines, she's an author I'm now more than eager to try again.

Pros


Rich in historical detail and legalese // Addictive // Reminiscent of the extravagance and flair of the '50s and '60s // Contrived, complicated, original plot // Bambi and daughters are so well portrayed, so lifelike // Mystery seems impossible to solve, and remains unpredictable even until the very end // Weaves complex emotions about family and love within the crime // Will surprise you multiple times—not your average linear whodunnit // Thrilling, engaging

Cons


Sandy isn't likable // Too detailed and slow-moving at times // Timeline gets confusing to keep up with

Love

It wasn't pitiable to love someone who didn't love you, or to love someone who didn't love you in the same way you chose, or to love someone more than he loved you. One could even argue that it was brave and pure.

Verdict


Sandy Sanchez doesn't know what he's in for when he takes on two details of a cold case that at first glance, other than the painfully obvious and quickly dismissed suspicions, have no plausible relation: the untimely appearance of Felix Brewer's mistress's dead body, and the means of survival the man's family turned to in his wake. Equal parts murder mystery and narrative family drama, After I'm Gone contains surprisingly touching wisdom about the tragedy of idealism and how nobody, no matter how beautiful their face or honest their soul, ever really gets what they want. Full of unstable alibis, tenderly guarded secrets, and the buildup of multiple unexpected but long-dreaded twists, Laura Lippman's latest crime novel provides soul-searing, electrifying insight on not only greed, selfishness, and cowardice, but also on identity, the gray areas between marriage and unfaithfulness, and the meaning of fatherly love Americanflag

8 hearts: An engaging read that will be worth your while; highly recommended (x)