After I'm Gone
Laura Lippman's latest mystery, AFTER I'M GONE, opens on July 4, 1976. It's our nation's bicentennial, but to the characters at the center of this opening scene, the fireworks and celebrations are just a backdrop to a much larger drama unfolding. Felix Brewer, a bookie and club owner who is about to have the law catch up with him, is headed to parts unknown, hidden away in a horse trailer owned by his mistress's sister. In addition to his girlfriend, Felix leaves behind his wife of more than 15 years and their three young daughters. Over the course of the next 30-plus years, these women's lives unfold with Felix's absence as the background.
When Felix's girlfriend, Julie, a former stripper at his club, disappears almost exactly a decade after his initial disappearance, everyone (including perhaps even his wife, Bambi) assumes that Julie has run away to join her lover. After all, she had spent years developing herself into the perfect mate for her beloved Felix. But when Julie's body is discovered in a Baltimore park years later, it's clear that Julie never met her absent lover after all; instead, she was the victim of a homicide.
"Readers will grow fond of Sanchez, and longtime Lippman fans will be particularly pleased by cameo appearances by the author’s beloved PI heroine Tess Monaghan, as well as her husband and daughter."
That's why in 2012, Julie's case ends up on the desk of Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a retired cop who's keeping himself afloat by taking on cold case investigations. Sandy admits to himself that Julie's provocative photos are what first drew him to the case, but he's soon intrigued by the complicated relationships, memories and lies he uncovers when he begins to ask questions. Certainly there are many people in Felix's life who might have wanted Julie dead, who might have been happy to have Felix never return. Uncovering the truth from the competing stories and conflicting information is exactly the kind of challenge Sandy relishes, though, and he's not about to give up until he finds out which of the names in Julie's overstuffed file is responsible for her untimely death.
Lippman is not one to tell a crime story straightforwardly or simply, and that's the case here, too. Instead of focusing on one character or telling her story chronologically, she moves freely through time and various characters' perspectives --- from the 1959 Valentine's Day dance at which Bambi and Felix met, to the 2006 baby shower that almost tears two of Felix's daughters apart. She alternates these vignettes with Sandy's present-day investigations, as he slowly but surely asks the questions and makes the connections that the police failed to do the first time around.
Readers will grow fond of Sanchez, and longtime Lippman fans will be particularly pleased by cameo appearances by the author’s beloved PI heroine Tess Monaghan, as well as her husband and daughter. It seems clear that we might be seeing Sanchez again --- and that a new Tess Monaghan novel also might not be far behind.
Helping ground AFTER I’M GONE is that many of the chapters are focused on family celebrations and gatherings --- from bat mitzvahs to funerals. These events not only offer the reader plenty of opportunity to witness characters' interactions, they also serve as a constant reminder of the passage of time in Felix's absence, of all that he's missing even while his family is missing him.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 14, 2014