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Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (Review)

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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Ariel Lawhon, 2014
308 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
June 2014

It's a fair bet we won't get a lot of character depth when a single paragraph extols a woman's fine-boned hand, her tangle of pale curls, and tanned shoulders. The same is true with silly descriptions of eyes...cold, flashing, flinty, or otherwise.

But a bit of clunky writing is easy to overlook in this delicious tale of lust and corruption from the 1930s. Ariel Lawhon has dusted off a piece of real history, reimagining an unsolved crime that had once grabbed headlines across the country. Her novel approaches the story from the point of view of the three women involved.

These were end days for Tammany Hall's control of New York politics, when a well-connected judge mysteriously disappeared. No one knew where he was or what happened, whether he skipped town or met his demise.

But we readers know where he is. In this fictional version, we're placed at the very time and place that Judge Crator disappears. We are right there with his mistress, who witnesses it all.

The judge's wife Stella (she of the fine-boned hand, etc.) must deal with the outfall of his disappearance—as must his mistress, Broadway showgirl Ritzy, and the couple's house maid Maria Simon. The women all know more—and are all more involved—than they let on. The fun is in seeing the game of cat and mouse the three play...with its didn't-see-that-coming twist at the end.

Beyond that, I will not go, not wishing to spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that mobsters, a speakeasy, an anti-corruption investigation—all true to life—are presented against the backdrop of a glitzy 1930s New York—when Al Smith was governor and the Empire State Building in its infancy.

See our Reading Guide for The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress.

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