by ariel lawhon
Published by Doubleday
on January 14, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
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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.
“I hate being predictable.”
“I believe they call that classy.”
These are not listened in order of importance, obviously. Or are they…. I often find myself pondering titles. I mean, they are your hook, right? That and the cover. So, when you have a title like this, what do you think? Who is important? Who isn’t important? Are they ALL important? Who is the story about? WHO IS THE MOST IMPORTANT?
Let’s break it down, shall we?
First, we have a wife. In this instance, it’s Stella Crater, wife of Justice Joseph Crater, who disappeared in 1930 (that’s right, this is based on real stuffs, yo!), and, obviously, suspect numero uno. Because isn’t it ALWAYS the spouse?? Stella is, by all appearances, exactly what you would picture of a judge’s wife; wearing the correct dress, the proper perfume, attending the best parties, and serving the best champagne. She’s also the silent standby, watching her husband’s shenanigans with a weather eye.
Next we have a maid. Maria Simon is the maid for the Judge and Stella. The judge helped Maria’s husband get a promotion to detective with the NYPD. I imagine any maid for such a couple might know a few deep, dark, secrets, don’t you? Is she in the Judge’s pocket thanks to that promotion? Or, is she the good Catholic girl she appears to be?
Lastly, we have the Mistress. Ritzi has come to New York like a lot of poor Midwest girls did in the 1930s. She’s seeking fame and fortune. She’s on the chorus line, but she wants more. She’s also mixed up with some bad people, worst being Owney “The Killer” Madden. If you think that sounds like a mobster name, you would be right. Ritzi is a sweet, naïve kid and she’s about to be in big, big trouble. Because Ritzi is the last person to see the Judge alive.
So, the Judge has disappeared. This is not a spoiler, it is a fact. Remember? Based on a true story! No one has ever seen him again. Which of these three women know what happened to him? After 39 years of deception, Stella Crater is ready to tell all to the detective who worked the case, the very same detective married to Maria. Stella’s tale is full of lust, greed, and lies. It is full of smoky jazz clubs, ambition, sordid deals, and the smell of illegal whiskey.
Ariel Lawhon did a fantastic job of evoking an era. From the sizzling hot dance floors of Prohibition era New York to the dance halls of Broadway, I felt like I could smell the smoke and taste the whiskey. The mystery of just what happened to the Judge was taut and stayed that way to the end. Her writing is sharp and wickedly fun. All three women were well drawn, different, and mysterious in her own right. And the end. Oh, the end. What fun. That’s all I’ll say. The whole book is fun. I love that the 1920s are a popular setting this year. I’m really enjoying all the books I’ve read set there. I hope I don’t burn out on them for a long while.