It is always exciting to read an author who is aiming for a highly ambitious book. It is even more exhilarating a read when you feel the writer may have even surpassed her intended goal. Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone is such a read.
Loosely based on a true unsolved missing persons case, the plot centers on Felix Gottshalk, a man involved in decades of shady business and facing prison time, who disappears without a trace on our country’s bicentennial. An exact decade later, his mistress, Julie, is murdered. In 2012, Sandy Sanchez, a cold case cop, is assigned to look into her death. To solve Julie’s killing, he has to look into Felix’s disappearance, which involves studying Felix’s life through those who knew him. Sandy ends up operating like the reporter in Citizen Kane trying to figure out what “Rosebud” meant.
It’s how Lippman uses the technique of the investigation and flashbacks that sets this book apart. The focus ends up being less about Felix than the women he left behind. Bambi, the wife, is the most pivotal character. We first get to know Felix through her perspective as they meet at a Valentine’s Day dance in 1959. Their marriage shows how one becomes a part of other’s sins in a relationship.
As for Julie, she is not the stereotypical mistress. Neither a vixen nor a naive romantic, she is politically aware, savvy, and independent.
We also get the viewpoints of the daughters he left behind. All these women are connected to Felix in different ways, all with their share of secrets.
Through the story, Lippman bounces us through the Mad Men era to the post-feminist era. Through Julie we get the emergence of ’70s feminism, though she is far from militant in that respect. She also guides us through the transition from the ’70s into the ’80s, working as a volunteer for independent Presidential hopeful John Anderson. All of this is done with a nuanced tone that reflects the characters.
After I’m Gone is a fully realized novel. It is rich in character and theme, holding several ideas on family, religion, and class in a cohesive manner, and never lacks the suspense and reveals of a strong thriller. Once again, Laura Lippman has exceeded the high expectations we have of her.
MysteryPeople welcomes Laura Lippman to BookPeople on Wednesday, Mar 5th at 7PM to speak about & sign copies of After I’m Gone. For more information and to order signed copies of After I’m Gone, visit bookpeople.com.