-Seven point five percent, she said at last.
-The country is two hundred years old this year. They’re asking you to give seven point five percent of the country’s entire history.
-That’s a lot, and you know I don’t give points easily.
As part of my 2016 English lit targets, Laura Lippman here, influenced by a true case, the disappearance of Julius Salisbury a lottery and strip club owner in 1970 has written a fictional account here of what would happen to the women left behind after the disappearance of a successful but petty criminal. She imagines the family he left behind and their relationship with his mistress, a stripper at his club.
Felix Brewer disappears at the beginning of the book, 1976. On bail under a federal charge for running illegal lotteries, he doesn’t think he would survive the fifteen years in jail that was being asked of him and so in collusion with his two friends, Bert Gelman the lawyer and Tubby Schroeder the bail bondsman he skips bail and disappears leaving his wife Bambi, and three children, Linda, Rachel and Michelle as well as his mistress Julie Saxony who he persuades to drive him to the airport, he was going to leave everybody catered for:
-Julie was going to have it hard, once he was gone. Bambi had the girls, friends, family. Julie didn’t have anyone except her sister, an odd duck and that was being kind. The puss on that one when she took the wheel.
-This better be for forever, she muttered.
-You’re getting yours, he reminded her. Everybody was getting theirs, one way or another.
Ex Baltimore detective and present day cold case private investigator, Sandy Sanchez, drops a file and as he picks it up comes across the erstwhile picture of Julie Saxony, he remembered the case, she had disappeared, 10 years after her boyfriend Felix Brewer in 1986, gone to join him everybody supposed until her body was found in Leakin park in 2001. Maybe it was the mystery, or just her looks that tempted him to re-open this case.
When Felix Brewer disappeared so did his money, but what happened to it, Bambi was left with nothing to raise Felix’s family, Julie Saxony who was left his cover operation, a modest coffee shop, moved up to a small bed and breakfast and then to a fancy restaurant just before disappearing, but with what money? Bambi’s?
Brewer left behind him a tangled web of friends and family and as Sandy investigates at his slow pace, he picks apart this puzzle, Julie was definitely going to meet Felix when she disappeared. Bambi had found her own pearl earring at her house just after the disappearance, except she hadn’t lost it; had Felix bought the same earrings for all of his women? Had Julie been to Bambi’s house when she had been away and only Rachel had been there?
A pleasant murder mystery with an in depth study of each of the five women characters as well as Sandy, Felix was after all gone, so why spend too much time with him? As usual all is not as it seems and betrayal is at the heart of things. An interesting two weeks of audio in the car, I’m not sure I would buy the book.
First published in English as ‘After I’m Gone’ by Faber & Faber in 2014