Lu Brant is the ambitious, brand-new state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland, a position once held by her father, the most beloved lawyer this side of Atticus Finch. Many people imagined Andrew Brant, widowed just a few days after Lu was born, would ultimately go on to hold higher office, but he never did; Lu, on the other hand, is the kind of hard-driving star who seems destined to make it all the way to the Senate or the governor’s mansion.
Unlike nearby Baltimore, affluent Howard County has very few murders, but Lu’s first homicide case comes along near the beginning of her tenure. At first, it seems routine: a woman has been killed in her apartment, in what appears to be a robbery gone wrong. A hit on the fingerprints left behind lead to a vagrant with a history of petty crimes. Of course, this being a Laura Lippman novel, it turns out there is much more to the crime than a simple case of breaking-and-entering.
Lippman rolls out the revelations at such an expert pace that to give too much away would risk spoiling the many delights and surprises that await the reader. Along with the central crime plot and Lu’s complicated present-day relationships, the book contains alternating chapters that flash back to Lu’s youth, when she and her older brother AJ were growing up in then-new Columbia, a planned suburb which the developer imagined would be a sort of inclusive utopia that would welcome people of all races and income levels. (Incidentally, the Wikipedia page for Wilde Lake High School lists one of its notable graduates as… Laura Lippman, along with the actor Edward Norton and NFL linebacker Zach Brown.)
Lu is a flawed but sympathetic character, loyal and strong, and the flashback chapters show how her challenging childhood shaped her. “There was so much unfairness in life,” she muses, “especially when one was the youngest, and a girl. I planned to change that one day. I was going to be an astronaut or a president, maybe an astronaut and then the president. And here we are, more than thirty-five years later, and we have plenty of female astronauts and we’re within spitting distance of a female president. But you know what I consider true progress? The fact that we had a female astronaut disturbed enough to make that famous cross-country trip in adult diapers, intent on killing a romantic rival. When your kind is allowed to be mediocre or crazy—that’s true equality.”
Clever asides like that, along with a solid plot and page-turning suspense, make Wilde Lake one of Lippman’s best novels.