After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

After I'm GoneFelix Brewster met Bambi Gottschalk in 1959 and it was love at first sight. A marriage and three daughters later, on the Fourth of July, 1976, in order to avoid prison, he disappears.

The marriage was not necessarily a happy one and Felix had a mistress, a stripper named Julie. When Julie vanishes ten years to the day that Felix disappeared, everyone assumes that Felix summoned her to join him in his exile… until, years later, Julie’s remains are found in a secluded wood.

Now, in 2012, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a cold-case investigator decides to re-open the case – and discovers many long-buried secrets within the family.

Right, let’s make things clear at the outset. This is a mystery novel. You certainly couldn’t tell from the front cover, but when you see that the back cover contains recommendations from Mark Billingham, Tess Gerritsen and Harlan Coben, you realise what sort of novel it is. I wonder – if one of those quotes was on the front cover, might it make it more likely to be picked up in a bookshop? Maybe, maybe not?

I commented before on mystery writers who create convincing characters. Well, Laura Lippman takes it to another level. The book chapters alternate between the present day investigation and events from the past, and even the present day chapters delve deeply into the past of Sanchez alongside the investigation. The historical chapters add a lot of background and depth to the various characters in the narrative and at the end of the day, the mystery element is resolved very satisfactorily.

But I don’t think this book is for every mystery fan. I think it all depends on how important the focus on the plot is for the reader. As well-written as the characterisations are, there is a large chunk of it that it unnecessary for the armchair sleuth, and for that reader, it might seem rather slow. For example, a large selection of the flashback chapters happen between Julie’s disappearance and the present day, which, while they do contain some important information, any clues are hidden like a needle in a haystack. Some readers will find these chapters engrossing and involving… sorry to say, I’m not one of those readers.

There is a lot to admire here – it’s a very impressive piece of work – but at the end of the day, it wasn’t my cup of tea. But if you want something that combines a decent whodunit with a strong character drama, then this is probably the book for you. Highly Recommended – if it sounds like your sort of thing.


  1. Steve: I reviewed this one earlier this year. Lippman is hit or miss for me–I’ve read five of hers now and either really love them or I really don’t. I agree with you that the plot (and the clues) are nearly as focused and highlighted as the character development. Normally that bothers me, but it happened to work really well for me in this one.


  2. I love Laura Lippman, but I read the blurb for this and was ambivalent about it – and ordinarily I’d buy one of hers without a thought. I think she’s a great writer, but I used to find her books so hard to get in the UK.


      • Many of them – probably my favourites – are about Tess Monaghan, a Baltimore private detective, and Baltimore itself is as much of a character as any of the cast. Tess has some interesting friends, some of whom are slightly eccentric, but enjoyable company, as well as extremely useful for slightly dodgy assignments. A stand alone which I really did enjoy was When She Was Good, which was, for me, a ***** (that’s 5-star). It’s about a one-parent suburban mum, who, when she headed to work, was a high class prostitute. I particularly enjoyed the feminist message, and the way it wasn’t rammed down our throats , and as a result the questions raised by the book makes the reader think, hard.


  3. I may try this book. Many of Lippman’s standalone books sound too tense for me, putting people in uncomfortable positions. But this one seemed more my type of thing. I have read one of the Tess Monaghan series, but wasn’t that fond of it. I have more of those to try.


      • Maybe all of her standalone books are not that type, but the descriptions I have read had indicated a level of tension that I would not enjoy reading. Maybe the descriptions have been catering to those who like psychological suspense that shocks. In doing more research now, I see a couple that I might try, including the one described above by Crimeworm.


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