Author: Ariel Lawhon
Published: January 2014, Doubleday
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Source: Publisher/She Reads
A tantalizing reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930-Justice Joseph Crater's infamous disappearance-as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best.
They say behind every great man, there's a woman. In this case, there are three. Stella Crater, the judge's wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge's bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband's recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city's most notorious gangster, Owney "The Killer" Madden.
On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge's involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?
After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge's favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks-one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale-of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.
With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.
My thoughts: This is the type of book that grabs you from page one...and holds your attention throughout. Cleverly written and with just enough suspense that you find yourself reading just a little bit more until - wow! - you're at the end of the book. I love books like that and that was my experience reading Ariel Lawhon's book. I'm so glad that She Reads picked this book as our February selection - and just have to say how cool it is that she is one of the founders of this amazing organization!!!
The idea behind this story is one based on fact. Judge Joseph Crater did indeed disappear in the 1930s and this story is what Ariel Lawhon imagines could plausibly have happened. Now, not knowing anything about these events, I found myself riveted to the book. The characters were all well-developed and the setting was like I imagined it would be in NYC during the 1930s - which just happens to be one of my favorites settings to read about. I love reading about NYC in the early days! This is what I love about historical fiction - reading about an event in history and then getting an author's ideas of what might have happened.
Told from alternating viewpoints of the three women in the title - Stella, the wife; Maria, the maid; and Ritzi, the mistress - the story moves seamlessly back and forth not only between them but also in time, from before the disappearance to after. But done in such a way that the pieces all fall together perfectly. And then the ending - OMG...I certainly didn't see that coming!!! Without giving anything away I will just say it is a great ending!
I really liked all three women for different reasons. They each had their own strengths and at times you can't help but find yourself cheering them on. They were brave, they made mistakes - they are human...and how can you not like them just for that.
This is the first book I've read by Ariel Lawhon and I really enjoyed it...and will definitely be keeping her on my radar! Have you read this one yet? Have you read anything else about this topic? I would love to know if there are any other books written about the disappearance of Judge Crater...it's quite an interesting case.
The February Book Club Selection from She Reads is The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
Head over to the She Reads website to read other reviews and related posts.
*** Also - the She Reads twitter chat will be on Feb. 27 @ 8pm EST with Ariel Lawhon. The hashtag to join in is #srbkchat.