Not What I Expected: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

wilde lake 2My experience of reading Wilde Lake was a mixed one. I adored the first hundred pages, and I even went to so far to tell people to read it on the basis of the beginning alone. It’s so specific about growing up in a planned suburb in the 1970s that I  was fascinated. Now that I’m finished, there’s so much that bothers me about it, and it mainly has to do with the two main pleasures I look for in a crime novel: there’s some clarity about what happened, or there’s a thrilling chase or setpiece or two that keeps me interested. I think the openness of the ending, which wasn’t a total openness, to be fair, was what bothered me the most.

The Laura Lippman standalones I’ve read tend to deal with past timelines being uncovered in the present. Wilde Lake is no different: the intersecting timelines circle around Lu Brant, the first female state’s attorney in Howard County who prosecutes her first murder case as an elected official. The past storyline involves her older brother who accidentally killed someone when he was a teenager and when their father was state’s attorney. Lu is 10 years old in the bulk of the past storyline, so her memories are not reliable because of the significant passage of time.

Why I liked the beginning: the book is like an update to To Kill a Mockingbird. Lu is a tomboy, her mom is dead, her dad is a prosecutor instead of a defense attorney. She’s wily. She’s trying to figure out her dad and her much older brother. They live in Columbia MD, a suburban dream of equality and egalitarianism halfway between Baltimore and Washington DC, and the political and suburban planning theories sounded great.

But there’s not a lot of forward momentum. What I ended up feeling is that everyone was hiding sordid parts of their past, and there was no resolution for most of the characters. And it ended with Lu alone, out of a job, and a father heading towards death. I’m not sure her goal of writing down her family’s secrets for her young children would really explain her family to them. People lie, people feel guilty, and the legal system can’t expose the truth necessarily. It may be a truthful book, but it left me in an odd place. I’m not saying all crime novels need to be a bit more thriller-like or resolve more issues/ more details about a crime, but those are two things that I like in a crime novel. I’m not as up-in-arms about this ending as, say, I was bothered by In the Woods by Tana French, but I’m feeling dissatisfied.

I borrowed this book from the library.


8 thoughts on “Not What I Expected: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

  1. I know exactly what you mean, Rebecca! I like clarity, too, when I read. I like the big questions answered, even if, for instance, the author leaves one or two little things open as a hint to the next novel (if it’s a series). I do like Lippman’s use of past/present connections, though, and I can see why you enjoyed the first part of the novel.

  2. I have not read that much of Lippman’s books (only one of the series books), and the reason I have avoided the stand alone books is that they seem to tense to me. Based on descriptions I read.

    • Some of them are, but this one felt too untense for me for long stretches. Strange, huh? Are you still reading lots of older favorites, Tracy? I saw you just read Millar and meant to comment.

      • I am still reading mostly older mystery fiction,Rebecca, this month so far 4 vintage mysteries vs. two newer crime fiction books. I did enjoy the Millar book a lot.

  3. I have mixed reviews for Lippman’s writings. I liked “What the Dead Know,” and some of the other stand-alones, but got bored by the last one I read, so I stopped reading them.
    I also have my own political disagreement with her on a basic issue and I hope she’s mellowed out. But it did irk me, so I lost interest.
    But just on the basis of the writing, I am not sure I’d read more of her books unless it got rave reviews.

    • I haven’t gotten to What the Dead Know, but I think my favorite stand-alones are some of the early ones compared to the last few.

      BTW, I thought you’d be interested in hearing that the follow-up to Norwegian by Night is coming out in a few months. It’s called The Girl in Green, and I think it looks good.

  4. Yes, thanks. I have it on my TBR list. Can’t wait for that book along with Fred Vargas’s new book and Tana French’s.

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