After I’m Gone
By Laura Lippman
Faber & Faber, £12.99 hardcover
Twenty-six years have passed since Felix Brewer went missing, leaving behind a wife, three daughters, and a mistress. Ten years to the day of that disappearance, his mistress vanished. In 2001 her decomposed body was discovered in the woods. If she didn’t run away to meet her lover all those years ago, what did happen to her?
This is the barest outline of Laura Lippman’s newest crime novel, After I’m Gone, which tracks the after-effects of Felix’s disappearance on his family and friends in alternating chapters devoted to his wife, Bambi, and their three daughters, Linda, Rachel and Michelle. These are interleaved with chapters narrated by Roberto Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective who now chases up cold cases for a living. His painful sense of loss following his wife’s death makes a nifty counterpoint to the Brewer women’s various ways of coping with Felix’s absence.
Lippman is a hugely popular author, revered by her peers as well as her adoring audience, and based on my first experience of her work, I can now see why: she’s all about giving satisfaction. The story moves at a brisk pace and is recounted in spare but not terse prose. The characters are psychologically believable, so even when they’re unlikable it’s easy to empathise with their difficulties, from the pampered wife turning a blind eye to her husband’s nefarious activities, or the mistress who despite knowing better, secretly makes plans for her wedding.
What I especially enjoyed was the assumption of knowledge on the part of her readers. Lippman’s detective never explains things we’re likely to know – whether from reading in the genre, or watching police programmes on the telly – and encourages us to feel as clever as Sanchez is when we’re reviewing the clues over his shoulder. Having said that, there are still plenty of twists and turns. Just when it seems we’ve figured it all out, new information comes to light, and the ending offers a satisfying little surprise.