Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: The Wife the Maid & The Mistress

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on October 6, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

The Wife The Maid & The Mistress - Ariel Lawhon
Anchor Publishing
320 Pages

Each year, the Lockport Public Library hosts a program titled, “One Book -- One Community.” This program chooses a book for the patrons of the local libraries to read, and then follows up with a lecture and book signing by the author.  This year’s selection is The Wife, The Maid, & The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon.

Lawhon’s book is a piece of historical fiction that centers around the real-life disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in August, 1930.  Crater was a New York City judge who was last seen leaving a restaurant on West 45th Street, and was considered the “Missingest Man in New York.”

Immediately, his wife, vacationing in Maine is the prime suspect. Stella Crater is a woman who expects a certain level of living and a certain anonymity. The constant questions by the authorities drives her away from the public eye, leading to a great deal of suspicion about her part in her husband’s disappearance.

Ritzi, a Broadway showgirl and Crater’s mistress, is one of the last to see the judge before his disappearance. In this story, she is present in the apartment when Crater is hauled away by abductors. Crater has left the young woman in a delicate condition which threatens her future as a showgirl. In addition, her secretive past bubbles to the surface and gives her an avenue to which she can hide.

Rounding out the title triumvirate is Maria Simon, the Crater’s maid. In addition to this, she also works as a seamstress in a tailor’s shop. Her husband, Jude, is an investigator with the police department investigating the judge’s disappearance and probable death. Maria becomes acquainted with Ritzi when the maid agrees to help the showgirl with her costuming needs.

Secrets are kept over the next four decades until a dying Stella Crater decides to reveal the secret of her husband’s disappearance to Detective Simon, Maria’s widowed husband. Long after the deaths of the other women involved, the story behind Crater is imagined to be a far deeper plot than we could have imagined.

Ariel Lawhon weaves a tale through the factual history of one of our country’s greatest disappearances. This novel is a “what if” as seen through the mind of the author. There have been virtually no leads in the case over the last eighty-five years. Lawhon makes a provocative argument for a possible explanation through the eyes of three different, yet very sympathetic women.

The narrative is shared by the wife, maid and mistress, each giving their own unique view on the events that took place in the days before and after Judge Crater’s disappearance.  Each piece unveiled by each woman builds the case for a solution to the mystery.These women's’ foibles develop over the course of the book, sometimes evoking sympathy with each woman.  Other times, the reader hopes they each get their comeuppance. 

The gist of this novel is not to determine what actually happened to Judge Joseph Crater on August 6, 1930. It is to speculate what could have happened to the man. Ariel Lawhon devises a great story around the established facts and uses gaps in the record to create an entirely plausible solution to this conundrum after nine decades.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon is a fantastic piece of historical fiction that keeps the reader turning the pages. Her prose is easy to follow and  flows with equally relatable characters. If you’re ready for more historical fiction by a very talented writer, stay tuned for her follow up about the Hindenburg crash, Flight of Dreams. Find it at your local library in February, 2016.

Craig Bacon sometimes wishes he could disappear. Mostly because being invisible would have some advantages to getting into the Paul McCartney show.