Sunday, April 6, 2014
After I'm Gone: Review
You can rewrite life all you want, Sandy thought. It's still a play where everyone dies in the end. (p. 193)
When Bambi Gottschalk met Felix Brewer in 1959, she knew he wasn't perfect--except perfect for her. It was love at first sight for both of them when he crashed that party at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, danced one dance with her, and told her he'd be the only one she'd ever know. And he was right. But...as mentioned...not perfect. He made plenty of money to keep her in finery and was always looking to get ahead, but he cut corners and made his money in ways he didn't like to discuss. And even though she was the only woman he'd ever love, she wasn't the only woman he'd ever have.
She learned to accept the indiscretions...until Julie came along. Julie lasted longer than the others. Then Felix got brought before the Grand Jury for some of his income's irregularities and did a runner before he could be put away. When Bambi discovered that Felix had apparently forgotten to make provisions for her and his three daughters and then Julie disappeared ten years to the day from when Felix disappeared, Bambi believed--as did the general public--that Julie had taken the money and run off to join her lover. At least she believed it until Julie's remains were discovered in a secluded park. But no money was found and no trace of Julie's murderer or Felix.
Twenty-six years later, Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a retired cop who now works on cold cases as a consultant, gets interested in the old murder and begins digging into the past. He has a perfect record because he hand-picks his cases and he knows that "the name [of the killer] is always in the file." You just have to look at everything from the right angle. But no matter how he looks at it, he always comes back to the man who disappeared and the five women he left behind.
This is a lovely novel. I picked it up because it's a mystery and I've enjoyed previous books by Laura Lippman. I stayed with it because of the characters. Lippman takes us back and forth between the events in the past and the happenings of the present and does it very effectively. That sort of thing doesn't always work well for me, but Lippman handles it just right. I also enjoyed the various viewpoints in the story--from Sandy to Bambi to Felix to Julie to the three daughters. Each viewpoint gave us the different angles that Sandy insists you have to examine in order to find the truth.
The book is also more than a mystery--sure, we're wondering what really happened to Felix and who murdered Julie--but the story is also about relationships and loss and trust...and what happens when that trust is misplaced. It's about the long-range effects of our actions and how little control we have over the ripples caused by our decisions--and how the best-laid plans can go awry.
The one distraction for me was all the background information on Sandy. There was an awful lot of information about him and his wife and their son. And information about the woman who raised him. We learn about his inadequacies and way more details about his private life than we really need to make the story progress. It's good to get to know the detective and to understand what motivates him, but a lot of what we learn doesn't really help with that. This distraction brings the read down to four stars.