And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman
(Harper Audio, 2012)
Format: audio CDs via library (narrated by Linda Emond)
From Goodreads: "Heloise considers it a blessing to be a person who seldom attracts attention. In her suburb, she's just a mom, the young widow with the forgettable job, who somehow never misses a soccer game. In the state capital, she's the redheaded lobbyist with a good cause and a mediocre track record. But in discreet hotel rooms throughout the area, she's the woman of your dreams - if you can afford the hourly fee.
For more than a decade, Heloise believed she was safe, managing to keep up this rigidly compartmentalized life. But her secret life is under siege. One county over, another so-called suburban madam has been found dead in her car, an apparent suicide. As forty looms and her son enters adolescence, Heloise is facing a mid-life crisis with much higher stakes than most will ever know. With no formal education, no real family or friends, Heloise has to remake her life - again. Disappearing will be the easy part. The trick is living long enough to start a new life."
This is the first stand-alone Lippman I've read, though I'm totally caught up with her Tess Monaghan detective series. Her writing, her Baltimore, have grown so steadily on me - I'm always slightly afraid that I'm going to end up deeper into the dark underbelly of life than I want, but somehow she balances it just right. Serious stuff, often thought-provoking, but lightly shaped and never far from intelligence and humor.
Heloise isn't an immediately likable character. Very bristly, defensive about her life (her public life and her very very private career life), and full of actions even she questions. But Lippman layers on more and more about Heloise, and I found myself way more in her shoes than I'd thought possible. And I was caught up in the slow wrapping of Heloise in binds that are going to make it vital and also terrifying for her to take action to change her life in ways she can't imagine. I just hoped she'd manage to do it in time.
Emond is a skilled narrator, and I always feel I can just relax when she's reading the book. (Is that a strange thing to look for? It may sound like it, but it's pretty great to know there are narrators you can trust to just get out of the way, and let the text speak for itself.) She's definitely alert to the text she's reading - pacing, inflection, voices all strong - but she manages it in a way that I can forget, audio to audio, what she herself sounds like. And yet, when I read a Reichs or a Lippman on paper/ebook, her voice has lurked in my head. It's just in a far quieter way than with such narrators as, say, Kellgren or Porter or (you knew I'd say it) Vance. This particular audiobook was nominated for an Audie in the Mystery category, which I'm listening to for the Armchair Audies project. I have no qualms about it being nominated, but am not yet sure how it will stack up against a strong field.