In the 1930’s in New York City, New York Supreme Court justice Joseph Crater disappears one night, never to be seen again. Although there’s a ton of speculation on what might have happened to him, the three women who were closest to him – Stella, his wife, Ritzi, a showgirl who’d been sleeping with him, and Maria, the Craters’ maid – might have some information about what happened. But unless the detectives working on the case can crack these women, there is no hope of discovering the truth about the fate of Joseph Crater.
Although in reality, the case of Joseph Crater’s disappearance was never solved, in this unique and captivating novel Lawhon imagines what really happened to him and unwinds the tale in spellbinding, exciting detail. This book is layered and complex, and it isn’t until the very end when the reader fully understands the vision that Lawhon created for these historical figures.
There is so much to love about this novel. The historical setting is absolute perfection and it is full of the quintessential 1930’s elements that are so fascinating to read about – Showgirls, speakeasies, gambling, gangsters – you name it. It was abundantly clear to me that Lawhon really did her research because the setting was done so fantastically, it was so atmospheric and I truly felt that I was there with these characters.
And the characters! What I loved about these women is that although they made terrible choices, choices that had disastrous consequences, they were asserting their power in the only ways available to them at that time. They did exactly what they felt they had to do in order to survive, and thrive, in an incredibly difficult time. Stella seemed the most innocent of the three, at least in the beginning she felt that way, but as the novel goes on, it’s apparent that she is quite a strong and intelligent woman in her own right. Ritzi is probably the most daring, the most cunning, but also the one who made the worst choices, but she’s also the only one of the three who is without a husband and needed to take more desperate measures to protect herself. And Maria made so many choices to take care of and promote her loved ones – you can’t help but admire her for that. I can’t say I loved all three of them equally, but I did truly appreciate them all and loved them in different ways. I most loved that Lawhon created three incredibly flawed characters and got me to truly care about them all, to want the best for them despite their bad decisions and the consequences of their behavior.
I thought the concept behind The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress to be so unique and creative and overall Lawhon did such an excellent job with it. Her vision is one I never would have come up with, but by the end it was the only possible way this story could have ended, the only possible fate for Justice Crater. I couldn’t put this book down and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended!