My husband has crushes. What man, what person, doesn’t.
When we began dating, he had the usual photos and magnets on his fridge. Friends and pizza places, respectively. But there was one old black-and-white photo, a scantily-clad woman who stared into the camera with a smoldering gaze.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“Pam Gail,” he said, as if I should know. But I didn’t. He explained that Pam Gail had been the other famous stripper on Baltimore’s The Block, a strip of burlesque clubs best known for a) producing Blaze Starr and b) its appearance in Diner, Barry Levinson’s first film as a director. Pam Gail was in the movie, too, my (eventual) husband told me. She is dancing on the stage of a strip club toward the end, when Tim Daly engineers a musical takeover of the club.
Furthermore, Pam Gail was the girlfriend to Julius Salsbury, a Baltimore number runner whose life inspired another Levinson film, Liberty Heights. In real life, Salsbury, handed a 15-year sentence on a federal gambling charge, disappeared in the early 1970s, never to be seen or heard of again. Gossip had him in Israel.
“You should write about Salsbury,” said my (eventual) husband. “Go interview the family. You could probably find out the true story.”
“No,” I said. “When I write fiction, I write fiction.”
Years passed. I left my job at the Baltimore Sun, became a fulltime novelist. My eventual husband became my husband. He continued to try to make the case for a novel about Julius Salsbury. If he weren’t my husband, I wouldn’t have listened to him at all. For me, writing a novel is personal, intimate. I do not consult. I do not entertain others’ ideas. A novel is a long-haul project. It has to come from the heart.
But, one day, when he returned to the subject yet again, a detail jumped out, found purchase. “He had a wife, three daughters, a girlfriend.”
Well, to quote my friend Tom Franklin, a novelist who is the best storyteller I know: Now I’m interested.
I like the number five, for one thing. I liked the Melendy family, the children in E. Nesbit’s “Five Children and It,” the five bookish children in Edward Eager’s Seven Day Magic. I had written a novel about five friends, The Most Dangerous Thing, which was published in 2011. With all due deference to Schoolhouse Rock, which taught me pretty much everything I know, five is the magic number.
And they were all women. I like to write about women. Write what you know, we’re told when we start out, and I know some things about being a woman. About being a mother, daughter, sister, rival. Julius Salsbury interested me not at all. But the five women he left behind — finally, my husband had my attention.
He was shocked, in late 2013, to find out where my imagination had taken his suggestion. He saw it so differently. But then, his view of the story is represented by the retired Baltimore homicide cop in the book, the guy who picks cold cases. The guy who sees a photograph of a scantily clad woman with a come-hither gaze and decides to go thither.
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(Publisher’s Summary) Laura Lippman, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, returns with an addictive story that explores how one man’s disappearance echoes through the lives of the wife, mistress, and daughters he left behind.
When Felix Brewer meets Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.
Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover—until her remains are eventually found.
Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women. And at the center is the missing man Felix Brewer.
Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.
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Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.