Laura Lippman is known for her wonderful series featuring PI. Tess Monaghan, among other terrific books. So I started this book believing it to be a murder mystery, especially as it begins with the discovery of a dead body. But then it appeared that I was wrong, that it was instead a very interesting character study, or rather 'studies,' dealing as it does with a dysfunctional family, the wife and three daughters (as well as their significant others) of a
fascinating man, Felix Brewer, rarely seen in these pages, the husband and father of these women, and others who were close to him. These latter included the lawyer and bail bondsman who were his best friends since their Baltimore high school days, and Julie, the younger mistress with whom he had cheated on his wife for several years as the story opens, which story encompasses a 35-year period.
Felix met Bernadette ("Bambi") when she was 19 years old at a Valentine's Day dance and quickly swept her off her feet, marrying her soon after. (Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, when Felix and Bambi married, and July 4th are significant dates in the story.) A bookmaker, he keeps her in very comfortable surroundings until he is arrested, convicted, and about to start serving a prison term when, on July 4th, 1976, he vanishes, with no clue as to his plans or his whereabouts, leaving his wife relatively impoverished, his mistress slightly less so. Ten years later, to the day, Julie vanishes as well, her dead body found soon after. The present-day narration begins 26 years later, when Roberto ("Sandy") Sanchez, the Cuban-born retired Baltimore cop who, as a consultant working on cold cases for the police department, picks up the murder file.
If all this was was a book encompassing character studies of each of these, it would very interesting reading. But that would be selling Ms. Lippman quite short: She has rendered a fascinating mystery, dealing with Brewer's disappearance, his mistress' murder, and the complex stories of the lives of these people, the detective on the case as well as all the others who make up the suspect group, each rendered in fine detail. Infidelity, in several manifestations, plays a large role in the plot. The author has fashioned an ending that you won't see coming, even when you're sure you do. (Parenthetically, the tie-in to Tess Monaghan near the book's end was a delight.) As with all Ms. Lippman's books, this one too is highly recommended.