Ripped-From-the-Headlines’ “Mistress” Is Magnificent

Posted 14 April, 2014 by Allison Hiltz in Best Bets for Book Clubs, Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction / 26 Comments

Ripped-From-the-Headlines’ “Mistress” Is Magnificent
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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
Published by Knopf/DoubleDay on January 14, 2014
Pages: 304
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: She Reads

From Goodreads: One summer night in 1930, Judge Joseph Crater steps into a New York City cab and is never heard from again. Behind this great man are three women, each with her own tale to tell: Stella, his fashionable wife, the picture of propriety; Maria, their steadfast maid, indebted to the judge; and Ritzi, his showgirl mistress, willing to seize any chance to break out of the chorus line.

As the twisted truth emerges, Ariel Lawhon’s wickedly entertaining debut mystery transports us into the smoky jazz clubs, the seedy backstage dressing rooms, and the shadowy streets beneath the Art Deco skyline.

From the first few pages of The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon, I knew I would be hooked. You see, the book is centered around the ripped-from-the-headlines disappearance of a NY State Supreme Court judge who just happened to go missing on the date of my anniversary: August 6. This is, of course, a complete coincidence, but it did intrigue me from the get-go.

At it’s core, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is speculative fiction, that is it’s a story of what could have happened to Judge Crater, based on real facts and characters. Set in 1930, it is clear from the first few pages that book is poised to be a confession by Judge Crater’s wife, Stella. As she sits in a seedy bar in 1969 with the man who investigated her husband’s disappearance, she recreates the year the judge stepped into a cab, never to be seen again. Told  from the perspectives of the three women in Judge Crater’s life (his wife, maid, and mistress), Lawhon weaves tale of deception, passion, and unspeakable crimes. As the women independently investigate the judge’s disappearance, they delve into the seedy underbelly of Broadway, learn of the corrupt authorities, and the experience the danger of gangsters. Ultimately, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress begs the questions of who knew what, and when they knew it.

“…. the truth is more important than protecting yourself. Regardless of the consequences.”

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I raced through this book in one sitting and can’t recommend it highly enough. Although all of the characters were fully developed, Lawhon’s three heroines were crafted perfectly. Each with her own story, Stella (the wife), Maria (the maid), and Ritzi (the mistress) could easily have a book of their own. Their carefully crafted stories blended together seamlessly, and I finished the book wanting to read everything I could about every single one of them. This isn’t because anything was missing, but because they were so well-cared for by Lawhon that I want more of them.

One of the things I loved about this book is the way Lawhon uses seemingly innocuous details to signify the ties that bind the three women together. For example, a streak left by a finger in the dust by one woman and noticed by another paints a better picture of their interconnectedness than an entire chapter could tell. Lawhon’s mastery of subtlety  adds a resounding layer of authenticity that will stay with you for days after you’ve finished reading the book.

It’s clear that Lawhon put her heart and soul into this book and it was definitely worth the risk. I cannot accurate express how glorious of an experience it was to read The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, but I sincerely hope that you take the time to find out for yourself.

What’s the last book that left you stunned?



Allison Hiltz
Allison is a voracious reader, Law & Order aficionado, serial napper, shark conservationist, and crazy coffee drinker. She is currently pursuing her graduate degree in Public Policy and lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two rescue dogs. She can be contacted at allison(at)thebookwheelblog(dot)com.
Allison Hiltz

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  • Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves)

    This book is awesome and sent me on a “fiction based on true crime” kick this year! It’s one of my favorite books of the year so far and is on my 2014 Summer Reading List.

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  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    This sounds amazing! Great review!

  • Jennifer Smeth

    So happy you loved it! Knew you would!

    • The Book Wheel

      You did tell me that I would!

      • Jennifer Smeth

        Lesson: listen to me more

        • The Book Wheel

          Consider it learned :)

  • Love at First Book

    Even though this book is slightly political, it sounds like it’s a book that would hook lots of people!

  • Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves)

    I, too, loved this book! It’s my favorite of 2014 so far…glad you enjoyed it too! And, I agree with you on the female characters…brilliantly drawn and “do what you gotta do” type girls.

    • The Book Wheel

      I can understand why it’s your favorite of the year so far. Plus, it’s nice to read about some kickass females ;)

  • Words for Worms

    I keep seeing this one around, but I think your review really pushed me over the fence. I’ve got to get my paws on this!

    • The Book Wheel

      Do it!

  • Jennine G.

    It’s on my TBR from previous reviews, but this really is one of the best reviews I’ve read on this book. Made me want to move it up higher on the list.

    • The Book Wheel

      I love when that happens!

  • Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    Ohhh don’t you love those “read it in one sitting” kind of books? So glad that was your experience with this one! Sounds amazing.

  • Melinda @ The Book Musings

    I think I entered a give away for this one. You make it sounds so good, I really need to put this on the TBR. Great review!

    • The Book Wheel

      Thanks! You will definitely like it – it’s right up your alley!

      • The Book Wheel

        It happens so rarely nowadays! I don’t know whether I’m too busy or that the books aren’t as good (maybe a combination), but one-sitting books are hard to come by.

  • Tanya M

    I won this one and cannot wait to read it. I have heard nothing but good things!

    • The Book Wheel

      It’s so good! You must read it soon.

  • Shannon @ River City Reading

    I missed this when it first came out but I’m so glad that I held on to my ARC. The author will be at Booktopia in August so I’ll definitely be reading it before then and I can’t wait to pick her brain about it!

    • The Book Wheel

      Awesome! I’m still trying to decide if I want to check out the Booktopia here (the night that’s open to the public, that is). It’s just over an hour away, but my fear is that it will be a zoo and not worth it. Any thoughts?

      • Shannon @ River City Reading

        I didn’t know they had a day that was open to the public. I’d give it a shot – it seems from the pictures of Booktopia VT that they had a ton of fun!

        • The Book Wheel

          They do, here. They said there is going to be one, big reading and signing for the participating authors. Maybe they don’t do it at all of them?

  • tanya (52 books or bust)

    I just got this from the library but I’m afraid I will have to return it before I have time to read it. But everyone says it is amazing.

    • The Book Wheel

      Can you renew it? Or put it back on hold again for the next cycle? I highly recommend doing so!