Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Random House | Doubleday
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads
Summary (from Goodreads)
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.
Cassie and I were chatting about our love for adult fiction, and we wanted to figure out a way to really highlight that love with a new feature. So, we're bringing you adult fiction reviews where we highlight five factors: The Frame (Setting), The Flow (Plot), The Faces (Characters), The Function (Writing Overall) and The Feelings (Relationships).
Each of our posts will highlight our own thoughts on each of the five factors, so you can see side-by-side how our opinions stack up. Then, it all culminates in The Finale where we jointly share our overall feelings on the book with a rating that helps you find out how this book factors into our favorites pile.
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is set in New York, and most of the book takes place during 1930 and 1931. The book opens in 1969 with Stella, the wife in the title, sitting down at Club Abbey and ordering two whiskeys on the rocks. It's become her yearly tradition - returning to the bar that played such a prominent role in their lives at one time. The book is divided in several parts, and each part opens with a scene from 1969. However, the majority of the takes place in the 1930s.
I absolutely loved this time period for the setting, and Lawhon makes it come alive. Gangsters, government corruption, showgirls, nightclubs, alcohol, murder... and mysterious disappearances. This is a book where I felt like the setting was absolutely crucial to the story, and it worked so well. I really loved how Lawhon focuses on the mystery and characters but still makes the setting shine!
Real-life Judge Joseph Crater hopped into a cab one day, and he was never seen or heard from again. It's a case that has always remained a mystery, and Lawhon's debut tells the story of what might have happened. Instead of telling the judge's story, she turns her gaze to three important women in his life: his wife (Stella), his maid (Maria) and his mistress (Ritzi). The book pieces together what is going on in their lives - slowly revealing what they know about the missing man and the events that led up to his disappearance.
I love this kind of mystery! It's was interesting and engaging, and I love that it just keeps building on itself as more and more is revealed. I also liked that each woman is facing her own dilemmas and struggles - smaller stories that are being told and contribute to the larger mystery at hand. The plot kept me guessing, but I was still able to enjoy what was going on instead of solely wanting the mystery to be resolved.
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress focuses on the three women mentioned in the title, and each woman's story is told over the course of the book. I definitely had my favorite and least favorite of the women, but I was equally interested in each of their roles and knowledge about the disappearance. I loved how they kept surprising me! They were layered and complex, and they never behaved exactly like I expected them to. I had a hard time distinguishing them right at the very beginning, but it soon became really easy to tell them apart and fall into their stories. I appreciated that they weren't stereotypes or tropes. They seemed like realistic, flawed women.
If you can't already tell, I thought this book was really well-written. With well-developed characters, a distinct and compelling setting, and a fast-paced and intriguing mystery, there was so much to love about The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress! The book reveals the dark side behind a glamorous exterior, and I thought the book was realistic and gritty without being depressing or too dark. I never felt like the book became very gruesome, which is something worth mentioning if you typically avoid books involving murder. It was fast-faced and fun, despite being sad at times, and reminded me of my favorite black-and-white movies from the 30s and 40s.
It's a time period where women aren't always treated well, especially by men in power. There are things in their lives that they seem powerless against, so it was really interesting to see the different ways they tried to show agency in their own lives. It would have been easy to make the women seem like flat, stock characters in the ways that they responded and reacted to their position in society and their relationships. Instead, they each make questionable decisions throughout the book that show they are all flawed human beings. This is important because the a lot of attention is paid to their relationships with the men in their lives. It's something that can be difficult to read about at times, but it was still really fascinating.
Cass: Okay, so Hannah! The Wife, the Maid and The Mistress - can you believe this was a debut?
Me: Not at all! This definitely seemed like it was written by a pro. It makes me all the more excited to see what Lawhon will write in the future!
Cass: I totally agree! I loved the three different POV's, each was so different from the others, AND kinda reminded me of our FIRST Favorite Factor book, The Husband's Secret, in that respect!
Me: I thought the same thing. I had a hard time distinguishing between the three right at first, but that soon went away. The women were so distinct and memorable in their own way.
Cass: Agreed. I'm gonna ask - did you have a FAVORITE?
Me: I did! I think I loved Maria the most - but I'm not really sure why. I did love her relationship with her husband, too, so that probably contributed. You?
Cass: Same! Though, by the end, I had a different kind of respect for each woman.
Me: Exactly! That's something I said in my comments about the characters and relationships. It would have been really easy for these characters to become stereotypes, but they really never did!
Cass: ALSO! What did you think of the setting/time period? I LOVEEE NYC in the 30s! It seemed so vivid in Ariel's writing!
Me: I thought the time period came alive! I loved that you saw the darkness behind the fancy facade without the book ever becoming depressing.
Cass: YES. Entirely agree. Anything you'd like to add to our talk?!
Me: I think this will really appeal to people who don't read a lot of historical fiction. It's fast-paced and has that mystery at the heart that really sucks you into the story. I love this genre, but I know it's not everyone's favorite. This is definitely one I'd recommend to people who are new to it! Don't you think?
Cass: YES. I think it's a WONDERFUL starting point for historical fiction and the mystery was such a lovely addition to the story! I know in the end we didn't agree on our consensus, BUT! What was yours?!
Me: This was "Almost A Favorite" for me, but it was SO close! I think the only reason I'm not bumping it up is because I don't really see myself re-reading it. That's usually the mark for me of an "Absolute Favorite." You?
Cass: It's definitely an ABSOLUTE FAVORITE for me! Between the combination of multi-POV's, mystery and historical, Lawhon did a stellar job and I loveeddd it! :)
Me: Points to me for picking this one and putting it on your radar!
Cass: :) THANK YOU -- YET again.
Don't forget to check out Cassie's thoughts!