I like a good crime novel but once in a while you do think the standard whodunnit can be a bit of a familiar format. So writers who can do a bit more are to be welcomed. Laura Lippman is one of these.
After I’m Gone is based on a true story, that of Julius Salsbury, head of a gambling empire convicted of fraud in the 1970s. He skipped town rather than serve his jail sentence and was never heard of again. He left behind a wife, three daughters and a girlfriend.
In the novel, Julius becomes Felix Brewer, a slick conman who opens the novel hiding in a horse box being driven to the border. He forgets to leave his wife and daughters leaving notes and instructions, though his girlfriend is given the deeds to a coffee shop. She does well but when she disappears 10 years later, everyone assumes she’d gone to meet him. But when her murdered body turns up in a local park many years later, this turns out not to be the case.
I didn’t really care who murdered her and if I’m honest, I don’t think Lippman was that concerned either. What did obviously concern her, and where the writing and characterisation came into its own, was with the relationships between the family Felix left behind. Felix’s girlfriend, like Felix himself, became a secondary character – this was about the family.
None of the women came across well, to be honest, and I actively disliked the younger daughter Michelle. But they were very well portrayed and the relationships were real and complicated. Recent crime series that have gripped people, like The Killing (season 1), have been acclaimed partly because they explored the devastation that crime can wreak. And in this way, criminal activity becomes something less obscure, something we can’t easily dismiss as “evil doings” and more something that might actually happen to you, or someone you know.
The best character in the book was the detective, who wasn’t really a detective but a retired cop, working as a consultant on cold cases as a way to stave off loneliness after the death of his wife. A warm, pedantic, familiar character, he did perhaps embody some cop cliches, but these are just the kind of thing I like.
In short, this is the perfect holiday reading. Are you going away for Easter? I’d recommend taking this. It’s engaging, well written and adds an extra dimension to the crime genre.