First line: "They left at dusk, about an hour before the fireworks were scheduled, and by the time they were at he old toll bridge over the Susquehanna, Felix could see glimmers of light through the one tiny window, little celebrations everywhere."
After I'm Gone opens with Felix Brewer running away. He's in the midst of a trial that will likely put him away for several years, so to avoid prison time he's leaving, without a trace. Abandoning his wife, three daughters and a mistress. But that's the last readers will see of Felix in the present tense, After I'm Gone is the story of the women's lives, including the unsolved murder of Felix's mistress.
Almost ten years to the day of Felix's disappearance, his mistress Julie disappeared. It was commonly believed that she went to meet Felix. However, that belief was crushed when Julie's remains turned up years later. Her disappearance was due to murder, not flight.
Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez is a retired cop who works with the Baltimore police on a contract basis, investigating cold cases. Julie's murder is long cold, and Sandy decides it will be his next project. He works under the belief that the perpetrator's name is in the file. In this case, the file is 800 pages and there are a lot of names in the game.
After I'm Gone jumps around time-wise, giving readers a glimpse of the Brewer family before Felix left, after he left, when Julie's body is discovered and finally the present as Sandy investigates the murder. This is the story of Felix's wife Bambi, his daughters Linda, Rachel and Michelle, and their struggle to define themselves in the shadow of their father's crime.
Laura Lippman delivers a captivating story of cheating, lying and murder, but even more bewitching than the crimes are the lives of the women connected to Felix. Each woman is so distinctly drawn, with their personalities meshing into the situation to create who they become. Bambi is stoic and independent. She wants to maintain appearances and struggles to do so. Linda and Rachel both knew their father well when he left, but Michelle didn't. She spends much of her life searching for men to take care of her, but without attachments. She's also the one who makes the greatest effort to find Felix.
The dynamics between these three woman are enthralling and heart-breaking. Their struggles and their bonds highlight the fortitude of these four women. The physical beauty is visible to the world, but the masked strength of their spirit is grasped through their development at Lippman's hand. Growth and transformations are authentic. Emotion is genuine. And by the end of the book, readers will be convinced they've known the Brewer family their whole lives.
While more of a background element, the mystery of Julie's murder adds a layer of suspense to an already engaging life story. It also allows Lippman to weave in the story of Sandy with his own troubled background. Whether readers anticipate the conclusion to the murder case or are surprised by the outcome, the true draw of the novel comes via the Brewer women.
As a fan of the Tess Monaghan series, her cameo was a nice surprise. Could it be a teaser? Is this the last we've seen of Sandy Sanchez? Only time will tell. If it the last we've seen, he made an outstanding appearance. After I'm Gone is certainly one of my favorite Lippman books to date.
After I'm Gone is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062083395) from William Morrow. It's also available from HarperAudio as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9780062265258) narrated by Linda Emond.
My review of After I'm Gone is part of the TLC Book Tour. You can see what other bloggers are saying about the novel, by visiting the TLC site for the complete tour schedule. In addition, William Morrow has a contest going for reviews of After I'm Gone. You can be entered to win a $100 Visa Gift Card if you post a review--to a blog, Goodreads, a retail site, wherever--and email the link to your post to email@example.com. Reviews--not just plot summaries--must be posted by March 1st, so make haste if you're interested!
Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work does not involve this tour or any other tour I would agree to be a part of here at the blog. Nor does my work with them obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.