Heloise Lewis is an ordinary woman living an ordinary life in the suburbs with her young son, Scott. Everyone believes she has been widowed many years ago, has no living family members, and runs a business devoted to women’s issues. Secretly, though, she owns an incredibly successful call girl agency. She learned this business after working for years as a prostitute herself, under a pimp who is now in prison for life. Although Heloise thought she was safe from her old life, the death of a suburban madam in a nearby town shakes her emotionally and suddenly the evidence that sent her former pimp and child’s father, Val, to prison is being called into question. Heloise is terrified that this life she has been so careful to build and protect is about to crumble around her, and she must do whatever it takes to keep things together for herself and to shelter her son from the truth.
And When She Was Good is an exceptionally gripping novel with an intriguing and unique premise. I couldn’t put this book down as I raced through it, desperate to find out how things would turn out for Heloise and her young son, anxiously hoping and praying that she would successfully escape her past and move on to a brighter future for herself and her child.
Lippman chose to tell this story by going back and forth in time, in alternating chapters between Heloise’s former life (as Helen, her given name) and her current life beginning from the day she learned of the suburban madam’s death. This worked well for me, as the chapters devoted to Helen allowed me to get to know her as a person, starting from when she was a young girl with an abusive father and a mother who turned a blind eye, to when she realized that to be successful in her life she had to use the only commodity at her disposal: her body. It was painful to read her journey to prostitution because Lippman created her to be such a sympathetic character – the reader can completely sympathize with and understand many of her decisions, including the one pivotal decision to work for Val. I couldn’t help but admire her strength, tenacity, and business sense as she built her own business and did so with as much grace as possible considering the nature of the business she created.
I have to say that although And When She Was Good had elements of a traditional thriller, the book is more of a psychological thriller, or a literary thriller if you will. That isn’t to say that my heart wasn’t pounding during many parts of the book, because it was – especially towards the end – but it is to say that those who expect a constant thrill ride when reading the novel will be disappointed. Rather, an incredibly well-written novel with excellent characters and a thrilling premise is what one will find in these pages.
I honestly enjoyed this book so much that I want to get to Lippman’s backlist as soon as possible. I have read one of her other novels but I know she has at least ten others that I would love to try. I didn’t LOVE the first novel of hers I read, it was more like than love (my review of What the Dead Know), but I can safely say that I loved And When She Was Good. I didn’t lose interest for one moment while I was reading this book, and I was absolutely satisfied with the end. Plus, I absolutely loved Heloise in every possible way. So if you want to read a Laura Lippman novel, I highly recommend starting with this one.