We begin in a bar. We will end here as well, but that is more than you need to know at the moment. For now, a woman sits in a corner booth waiting to give her confession.
Woah. What first line, right?! Lawhon uses the present to fuel our search in the past. We start in a bar with Stella, the Judge’s wife, completing a yearly ritual to toast “to Joe”. She meets a detective and finally shares the true story of what happened to Joe in 1930. The majority of the novel we spend in the past, but every once in awhile Lawhon jolts us back to the present-just long enough for us to get our bearings.
Let’s dive into the characters. I just love a strong leading lady, but Lawhon gives us three! In the words of Michael Scott, “Win-Win-Win!” The wife, Stella, is the epitome of the fashionable socialite wife. She plays her role perfectly as the “trophy wife” for Judge Joseph Carter. That is, she seems to be the perfect wife until we are introduced to the Judge’s mistress, Ritzi. Ritzi is a showgirl with her own rough and tumble mysterious past. She is the last person to see the Judge alive, but as a showgirl she doesn’t have enough clout or courage to share what she saw in those last few moments. Ritzi holds more than one secret in regard to the Judge-secrets that may threaten her life. Then there’s Maria, the Craters’ maid and a talented seamstress. Maria finds herself forever indebted to the Judge for helping her husband earn a place on the police force. The problem arises when her husband starts to look into the Judge’s disappearance, and Maria doesn’t share everything that she knows.
The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress started out as a promising read. (Remember that first line?) It has all of the elements that I love: historical fiction, a mystery, an intriguing time period, strong leading ladies. I truly hoped this one would be a great companion to my forever favorite, The Great Gatsby. I found, however, that it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. The women, as you get to know them, are not as likable as I hoped. The ending, while satisfying, did not offer any major insight into the characters besides what I had already worked out as I read. I don’t always have to have all of my questions answered, but this one left me wanting. Not to say this is Lawhon’s fault. Not at all, actually. The true story doesn’t have all of the questions answered, and Lawhon does her best to speculate what happened by the end of the book.
I first picked this book up as a part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. Anne counted it as one of her 2015 favorite reads because, for her, it was a page-turner and similar to the works of Kate Morton. For me, it didn’t quite reach “page-turner” status. It was just one of those books that I enjoyed, but didn’t want to make everyone I know read it. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a twisty mystery, but only if you are okay with not having all of the loose ends tied up once you reach the back cover. Lawhon is definitely a wordsmith, and I’ll be picking up a few of her other books, especially her book about the Romanovs and Anastasia, I Was Anastasia, coming out in 2018.
Overall, I was so happy I picked up The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress. It immersed me in the midst of one my favorite time periods and was a solid historical fiction read. It wasn’t overwhelmingly great, but it’s definitely one that I recommend you check out.
TL/DR: The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress is a twisty who-dun-it that transports you back to the speakeasies of 1930 to discover what happened to Judge Crater. Not quite a page-turner, this one is a good read for those who don’t need to have all of the answers at the end of the day.
Rating: 3/5 stars
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