AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD is a steady, surprising tale… Ms. Lippman’s nominal subject may be prostitution, but her book is not about a woman who takes care of clients. It’s about a woman who can take care of herself.”
%COMM_CONTRIB%New York Times
The consequences of long-buried secrets involving misogyny, motherhood, and morality play out in this excellent stand-alone set in suburban Maryland from Edgar-winner Lippman (The Most Dangerous Thing). Introduced in the novella “Scratch a Woman,” Heloise Lewis is a survivor who rose from the ashes of her past to run a profitable call-girl service, occasionally meeting special clients herself. To her neighbors, she’s a young widow and a devoted mother who never misses her son Scott’s ball games at his middle school. To the IRS, she’s a lobbyist with several women on her payroll and a medical plan. But Heloise’s carefully constructed life is falling apart because Val Deluca, her son’s father, who also was her former pimp, may be released from prison. Val doesn’t know he’s Scott’s father or that Heloise’s betrayal put him behind bars for murder. Shifting smoothly from Heloise’s past to her present, Lippman delivers an intense character study about a strong, complex woman whose love for her son compels her to make some desperate choices. Agent: Vicky Bijur, Vicky Bijur Literary. (Sept.)
Heloise is a suburban single mother who runs her own business, keeping the needs of her employees and her young son balanced on a knife's edge. She's also a former prostitute whose "consulting" business is actually an escort service with a client roster that includes politicians, lawyers, and other powerful men in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, DC. Heloise has kept her life carefully compartmentalized for years, but those lines start to waver and disappear, beginning with the apparent suicide of another local madam. The police officer who's acted as her protector leaves the department, the accountant who used to turn a blind eye starts asking uncomfortable questions, a pal from the old days tries to blackmail her, and a former employee threatens to sue over the HIV she contracted while in Heloise's employ. Worst of all, though, the most dangerous, violent man from her past may soon be released from prison and looking for revenge. VERDICT Lippman's (I'd Know You Anywhere) recent novels have skirted the line between mysteries and mainstream fiction, and this one is no different. While the author slowly ratchets up the tension until the final, blood-drenched showdown, this is really a story about a woman wresting control of her life from the men who done her wrong and then using her considerable resources to defend what she's built. It's a page-turner, but often an uncomfortable one, as enough of Heloise's backstory is included for readers to understand some of her more unsavory decisions. What may seem like a dropped plot point concerning her stepsister, Meghan, is actually a callback to a connected novella, "Scratch a Woman," which appears in the 2008 collection Hardly Knew Her, but the novel easily can be enjoyed on its own.—Stephanie Klose, Library Journal
Lippman (The Most Dangerous Thing, 2011, etc.), who specializes in tales of feckless parents and their luckless kids, puts a madam at the center of her latest dysfunctional family. At first, nothing could be more conventional than the Lewis family saga. Helen's father, already married with two children to his credit, knocks up her mother, Beth, a 19-year-old carhop. He moves in with Beth but hangs around his ex-wife Barbara enough to give Helen a half sister, Meghan, only six months younger. As Beth and Barbara tussle over worthless Hector, he focuses on tormenting Helen, telling her that she has "a nothing face," breaking her record albums and forcing her to get a job that interferes with her schoolwork. It's while waitressing at Il Cielo that she meets Billy, the owner's stepson, who lures her to Baltimore with promises of marriage. Instead, he turns her out, making her earn money to feed his drug habit by doing lap dances at a local strip club. That's where she meets Val Deluca, whose red hair matches his fiery temper. Val offers Helen a nice house and a better class of client, all for doing what she's already doing. He also gives her the chance to be something she'd never dreamed of: a mother. That's when Helen's tale goes off the beaten path. Before he learns about Helen's delicate condition, Val is jailed for murder, and Helen reinvents herself as Heloise Lewis, running the business at a level Val had never achieved. She recruits college girls with delicately worded ads for escorts and serves clients who include state legislators, all while presenting herself as a lobbyist for the Women's Full Employment Network. But when another suburban madam turns up dead, Heloise realizes that the safe, comfortable life she's crafted for herself and her beloved son, Scott, in affluent Turner's Grove is at risk. Like Mary Cassatt, Lippman studies families with a different eye than her male contemporaries, showing the heartbreaking complexity of life with those you love.