A tantalizing reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930-Justice Joseph Crater’s infamous disappearance-as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best.
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.
I’m delighted to announce that this month’s She Reads Book Club Pick is by none other than She Reads co-founder and all-around awesome writer/blogger/mama Ariel Lawhon. And, of course, with such a big name to cheer on, it’s the one month I’m dreadfully late with my review. It’s also the first month I’ve worked at my new library job and had the honor of shelving the She Reads pick in the New Release section and watching that enticing bright pink cover get checked out to its first lucky reader. Quickly.
Anything taking place during The Prohibition Era seems to be de rigueur now. T.V. series such as Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey and Hollywood blockbusters like The Great Gatsby bring the seductive world of speakeasys and smooth jazz to life. It was the time of gangsters and molls, when the twenties went out with a roar just before the Great Depression slammed the nation. The lines between corruption and conscience were often blurred (by bathtub gin?) mixing judges, crime bosses, and police in a way hopefully unheard of now.
Usually depictions of this time focus on the gritty and glamorous mens’ perspective, but in The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, Lawton spins the tale of the women who are often in their shadows, allowing them to shine.
The real story behind Lawhon’s fictionalized tale adds to the intrigue. Judge Crater—husband to the story’s wife, lover of the mistress, and boss of the maid— was considered “The Missingest Man in New York” and held a top spot in 1930s pop culture. “To pull a Crater” means to disappear, and for decades the judges disappearance was standard running joke with entertainers. Now Lawhon’s account introduces a new generation of readers to the mystery.
Part suspense, part women’s fiction, and seeped in period glamor, this story is literally ripped from the 1930’s headlines. If you enjoy period pieces, light mysteries, or 20th century historical fiction, this book is for you.
- The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress: A Novel
- by Ariel Lawhon
- Print Length: 320 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (January 28, 2014)
- Sold by: Random House LLC