The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Doubleday, January 2014
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon is one of the best novels I’ve recently read.
Lawhon brilliantly reconstructs a real-life mystery – the unsolved disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in 1930. She does this through the eyes of his wife, their maid, and his mistress.
Lawhon jumps back and forth between 1930 and 1969, when the judge’s aging wife Stella Crater meets with the detective who had then been investigating Crater’s disappearance. They meet at Club Abbey, once a famous speakeasy during the Jazz Age. Every year since his disappearance, Stella Crater salutes her husband with a glass of Whiskey: “Good luck, Joe, wherever you are.”
The main part of the novel takes place in 1930s New York City and Lawhon paints a vividly entertaining picture of the time, complete with dancing girls and mobsters – the infamous Owney Madden is just one.
The tales of Stella, the wife, Maria, the maid, and Ritzi, the mistress, are skilfully intertwined, showing their complex relationships with each other and the judge leading up to his disappearance.
As a reader, I was so drawn to each of the women, which is a testament to Lawhon’s skill, since not much is known about the actual historical figures Stella, Maria, and Ritzi. Lawhon crafted wonderful, believable characters in an enticing setting.
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a page-turner and I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Anika Abbate, March 2014.
The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
Quirk Books, January 2014
Ransom Riggs‘s 2011 debut novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children , began as a multi-media exercise. A collector of vintage black and white photographs, Riggs drew inspiration from found pictures of unknown children, who became the bizarre and magical characters in his novel. From this starting point, Riggs spun the tale of Jacob Portman, a lonely, discontented American teenager who travels to Wales to investigate mysterious photographs left behind by his dying grandfather. There, he discovers the titular home and its inhabitants, along with supernatural wonders – and horrors – that he has never imagined.
Uniquely, Miss Peregrine contains reproductions of the photographs that inspired the story. In the print edition, each picture is laid out on a page after the detailed verbal description of the images it contains. Because of this presentation, Miss Peregrine‘s readers had the chance to absorb the written description, imagine it for themselves, then turn the page and see the picture that inspired the passage. The result was a uniquely inventive reading experience that left audiences clamoring for more.
In Hollow City, Riggs revisits the world of the peculiar children. The sequel picks up exactly where the first novel left off, with Jacob and his companions fleeing the monstrous wights and hollows who want to devour them. This time, they are without the guidance of their guardian Miss Peregrine, who has been transformed into a bird. The children must then go on a mission to restore her to her natural form. In the traditions of quest fantasy, the characters encounter new friends and foes, and many bizarre and terrible obstacles, along their way. Once again, these adventures are accompanied by photographs – of sad clowns, bombed-out-cathedrals, and in one memorable case, a dog wearing aviator goggles and smoking a pipe.
Hollow City is the second book of a projected trilogy, and it has some of the structural problems associated with middle chapters. The plot is essentially concerned with getting the characters from point A to point B, and it piles on new problems and complications without really resolving any. Furthermore, the central conceit of the series – the relation of the story to the found images – sometimes feels more forced and less organic to the story that it did in the first novel.
At its best moments, though, Hollow City gives readers a spellbinding good time. Riggs writes rich, stylish prose, and he has created a memorable cast of characters. Jacob is an appealing narrator, flawed but wrestling honestly with his fears and weaknesses. Emma Bloom, the hot-tempered leader of the peculiars, functions as Jacob’s “love interest,” but she’s also a forceful and competent heroine in her own right. These characters and their many companions should be relatable not only to the older children and teens who are Riggs‘s primary audience, but to the many adult readers who have learned to appreciate today’s Young Adult fiction.
Overall, Hollow City does not always feel as fresh or as thrilling as its predecessor. However, it is by any standard a worthy follow-up, and people who loved the first book will not be disappointed.
Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, March 2014.