Friday, September 4, 2015

REVIEW: THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS BY ARIEL LAWHON

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.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2014)
Copy provided by NetGalley
Purchase this book: Goodreads | Amazon


OUR REVIEW:

Shel: I love it when we read literary fiction; it's a nice palette cleanser..a nice change of pace. Typically these stories are meatier, a little slower paced, and, in this case, rich in both the writing and the story. Court: I know, and that pace change is something I have struggled with. Because...well, just because it isn't constant heart stopping action, does not for one second mean that it isn't a seriously great novel. It is written so solidly, and there are a lot of moving parts to this one. 

Shel: I had to start and stop this novel a few times due to various obligations but the story stuck with me and the instant I'd pick it back up, I'd sink right back into 1930's NYC and the story of Judge Crater's disappearance. Court: Right. I read big chunks of this one each time I was able to read it, but found myself having other stuff going on and unfortunately it was easy to set aside. However, I read the last half of it all in one afternoon, so that again has some conflicting waffling going on in my mind about how I feel about it. Solid, but a bit slow is all I can say. And in this one...it isn't a bad thing, because as you will find out there is a lot of meat to it.

Shel: The story is told through the perspectives of Stella, the wife, Maria, the maid, and Ritzi, the mistress. We get to know their heartaches, their desires, and their secrets...and how they are all interconnected. Obviously Joe (aka, Judge Crater) is the main connection, but it was interesting to see the other ways their lives intersected. Court: How they come to know one another was interesting, and how each point of view made up the story was clever as well. I appreciated this, because as each point of view shifts around this one event, we get a teeny bit closer to figuring out what is going on. We get an semi-omniscient view of what went on here, and then there, and get to know key players inner thoughts...and that was a huge benefit to my reading experience.

Shel: Without giving too much away, I'll say that all three of these women have some hardships (some self induced and some foisted upon them) that define their actions, choices, and reactions but surprisingly (?), Stella is the one I feel the worst for by the end of it all. Maria and Ritzi have their fair share of trouble but I didn't feel nearly as bad for them at the end as I did for Stella. Court: They each did a lot of things for the betterment of themselves, and the historical aspect of this story was great as well. Encountering a time in New York City when show girls were ruled by mob bosses, as well as the police and the judges, and the women who loved and lost them...heavy stuff. 

Shel: I'd definitely recommend this novel and plan on recommending it to many. Even if there were times I felt it lag or that there were still questions I had at the end, I thought it was well written, had some surprises at the end, and that the story was an interesting one (and, apparently, based on a true story). If you're looking for something more literary in nature, I definitely think this is a great choice. Court: I was shocked to find that it was based fictionally on a real man. That was cool. And, I can too say that I am very glad to have read this one, because I definitely think it added something nice and spicy to my life. Boy, the tangled web we all weave, right?! 



Buy it here



About this author


Ariel Lawhon is the co-founder of the popular online book club She Reads (www.shereads.org). A novelist, blogger, and life-long reader, she lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.
Find Ariel: Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook

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