The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (Lawhon)

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress 
Ariel Lawhon, 2014
Knopf Doubleday
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345805966

They say behind every great man, there's a woman. In this case, there are three...

Stella Crater, the judge's wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge's bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband's recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city's most notorious gangster, Owney "The Killer" Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge's involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge's favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus).

Lawhon's first novel, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (2014) is centered around the still-unsolved disappearance of New York State Supreme Court Judge, Joseph Crater. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

Her second novel, Flight of Dreams (2016) is a fictional exploration of the mystery behind the the 1937 Hindenberg blimp explosion. I Was Anastasia (2018), Lawhon's third novel, follows Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia Romonov, the lone survivor of the execution of the Czar of Russia and his family. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
Good crime stories don't stay buried, and Ariel Lawhon's new novel, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress digs up the case of the so-called Missingest Man in New York and feasts on its bones…. This case was an a la carte menu of the era's social hot buttons: chorus girls, speakeasies, bootleggers, Tammany Hall corruption, nattily clad gangsters and irritating rich people.… Lawhon has a gift for lean banter and descriptive shorthand.... But don't let Lawhon's straightforward style and narrative restraint fool you. This book is more meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off. Clues accumulate. Each scene proves important. Everyone lies. Once the rabbit is out of the hat everything takes on a different texture, reorganizes and makes sense. A second reading, like a second cocktail, is almost better than the first.
Chelsea Cain - New York Times Book Review

A gripping, fast-paced noir novel.... captures a New York City period full of high-kicking showgirls, mob-linked speakeasies and Tammany Hall political scandal.... Lawhon brings fresh intrigue to this tale, making the final outcome a guessing game for the reader as events unfold... Her version is built colorfully around many of the actual places and people who were key figures in the case... Stella, Maria and Ritzi are central to Lawhon's tale and give it a depth of emotion that is often missing from crime thrillers... the story moves forward with momentum, thanks to well-crafted scenes and fluid dialogue. Also, despite the many decades since Judge Crater went missing, the mystery of his disappearance is still a powerful magnet for its fictional retelling.
Associated Press

A romp through New York in the late 20's…Populated by gangsters and crooked politicians, society ladies and dancers, this story is nothing like your day-to-day life and yet... you will find the three women mentioned in the title (a wife, a maid and a mistress) strangely recognizable…. Ariel Lawhon has cleverly re-imagined what might have happened if three women in his life really did know.
Charlotte Observer

As rumors swirl about political corruption, an NYC judge disappears in 1930 without a trace. Caught in the scandal are his wife and showgirl mistress – plus his dutiful maid, whose detective husband is investigating the case. Inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery, this mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression."
People Magazine

Set among seedy speakeasies and backstage dressing rooms during Prohibition, the twists and turns in the tale of lust, greed, and deceit keep you guessing until the final pages....The Nancy Drew in you can’t wait to solve the artfully hidden clues in this historical mystery.
Daily Candy

A romp through 1930s New York populated by gangsters and crooked politicians, society ladies and dancers.
Deep South Magazine

Turns a historical mystery into nail-biting entertainment.
Nashville Scene

An intriguing mystery… Lawhon’s storytelling skills bring the characters to life and will have readers sympathizing with them even when they cheat and steal. She weaves reality and fantasy together so well — if you’re looking for a page-turner filled with glitz and glamour as well as murder, greed and deceit, this one’s for you.”
Romantic Times

In extended flashbacks, [Lawhon] paints a sordid portrait of mobsters and mayhem, corruption and carnage, greed and graft as she slyly builds the suspense to a stunning revelation. A story of a bygone New York, [the book] is also a tale of three women.... A fascinating story, but rendered colorless by its lack of momentum and stock characters. (Jan.)
Publishers Weekly

This story is at once an intricate tale of disparate but coexisting definitions of love and loyalty as well as a tale of what it meant to be a person of power in New York City in the early 20th century. Historical fiction and true crime readers will thoroughly enjoy this book.
Library Journal

In this tale of Jazz Age New York, Lawhon walks one of fiction’s trickiest tightropes, creating a novel that is both genuinely moving and full of pulpy fun.…The imagined events of the novel become even more poignant when the reader discovers that the story is based on the real-life disappearance of Joseph Crater and that most of the characters were real people, like the notorious madam Vivian Gordon and the vile gangster Owney Madden. It’s a great story, told with verve and feeling.

Lawhon (Eye of the God, 2009) offers a fictional solution to the never-solved disappearance of New York Supreme Court Judge Joseph Crater in 1930, a headline story in its day.... [O]nly Ritzi's story...carries any dramatic weight. There is some cheesy fun to be had here with Prohibition mobsters and politicians, but the plot and prose are pedestrian.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Many of the scandals depicted in The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress could easily be on the cover of People magazine today. We often tend to romanticize bygone eras like the 1930s. Did this novel open your eyes to the fact that the more things change the more they stay the same?

2. What did you think when Maria returned to Judge Crater’s room and took the envelope her husband had planted there? Was it a gutsy move or foolish?

3. There is a very unusual bond that develops between Maria, Ritzi and Stella. How is their connection different from female friendships today? Are there similarities?

4. The three women actually exert a tremendous amount of influence over the men in their lives, but it’s all done in a very surreptitious way. What does this say about the dynamic between men and women in the 1930s?

5. “Only fools underestimate the strength of Stella Crater.” Were you surprised at Stella’s evolution from seemingly “good wife” to ultimate power player?

6. There are some interesting counterpoints going on in the novel: Jude and Maria’s happy marriage compared with Judge Crater and Stella’s marriage of convenience; Maria’s inability to have a child and Ritzi’s unwanted child. How did these juxtapositions enhance your enjoyment of the novel?

7. Did you find the contents of Ritzi’s letter to Stella surprising? What about Maria’s role?

8. There are many real people and events woven into the storyline. Were you inspired to find out more about people like Judge Crater, Owney Madden, William Klein, and Ritzi? Who was the person who intrigued you the most?

9. Who would you cast as Stella, Maria, and Ritzi if the book were to be made into a movie?

10. Judge Crater’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day. What do you think happened to him?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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