“She wasn’t aging well. Too thin, which wasn’t good for that kind of heart-shaped face, just left her eyes sunken, her forehead creased.” I love Laura Lippman’s style. In 23 words she gives us a complete picture of the character without once telling us what she looks like. After I’m Gone is Lippman’s new 331 page novel, published by Harper Collins in 2014.
Felix Brewer is a criminal; strip clubs, gambling - even some legitimate businesses - have made him a wealthy man. It all catches up with him and Felix faces five to ten in the penitentiary. He disappears. The girlfriend he leaves behind is heart-broken; his wife and three daughters are broke.
Ten years to the day after Brewer goes on the lam, girlfriend Julie disappears. The timing poses questions. Was there always a plan to meet? Had the gangster sent for the girlfriend, not the wife? Bambi Brewer and her daughters are subjected—again—to speculation and intrigue in the press, rumor and gossip in social circles.
Fifteen years later the discovery of Julie’s body causes new social seismic tremors. Lippman leaves the bungled original investigation to imagination and picks up eleven years later. The case is taken on as a cold case by a taciturn mensch of an ex-cop, Sandy Sanchez. He seems like a guy who is playing out the final two minutes of his life by continually falling on the ball—but not because he’s ahead in the game. He is a widower and has an institutionalized son in his thirties. He gave up on the boy twenty-plus years ago. His past haunts him.
Sandy digs into the case and finds a Brewer family at sea without a helmsman; stumbling in dysfunction. Felix is still around like a picture on the wall, never changing, while those closest to him have grown, given birth and gotten old. The investigator works the old case; reads the old files; interviews the participants and spectators. In working cold cases, his premise is that the name of the perpetrator is always in the files—and there, it is found.
In After I’m Gone Lippman has given us a novel with all the elements of a good tale: Interesting characters, indulgent settings and a plotline with money and love and greed for both. Above all, this is a story about loss; it’s about very real, very human characters dealing with loss and incorporating the consequent sorrow into their lives.