Laura Lippman writes some deliciously noir-ish tales, and her books always have something about them. Prom Mom is the name that the tabloid press gave to Amber when she unexpectedly gave birth on the night of her school prom back in 1997.
The book opens with Amber being confused as she returns to a hotel room, before she passes out on the floor. The baby dies, and Amber is considered at least partially responsible. Also held to task, although to a much lesser extent, was the baby’s Cad Dad, Joe.
Fast forward to a contemporary pre-/mid-/post-COVID setting, and Amber finds herself back in her hometown. She has spent years away, rebuilding her persona, and becoming interested in art. But following the death of her father-in-law, she finds herself back again, and we know things are going to unwind somehow.
Joe meanwhile, seems to be living an idyllic life with his wife Meredith. She have a palatial home, which friends and neighbours constantly comment about, since there are no children to fill the house. But with Meredith running a successful plastic surgery business, and Joe building an empire based on retail parks, nothing seems likely to derail their relationship.
Of course, under the surface, things are escalating, and the background of COVID lockdowns begins to impact on their lifestyles, and the plans they had.
Amber is a bit more secure, because although she has opened an art-gallery in a seemingly un-prepossessing part of Baltimore, she has her inheritance to see her by. And in any case, people started investing more in their homes, and their artwork, during lockdown.
This isn’t a whodunnit in any traditional sense, although there is an underlying truth that needs to emerge. But these are enormously believable, and in many ways, quite empathetic characters.
Joe and Amber hadn’t been high-school sweethearts – she was tutoring him French when they’d become involved. And it’s clear each had wanted something quite different from the relationship.
There are some beautiful observations made by characters throughout the book, and you wonder to what extent some of these might be Lippman’s own – getting them off her chest. And the sequence in which Meredith’s book club is spoken about is laugh out loud funny.
Lippman’s novels are must-read for me, and I’m fortunate that I have a few that I’ve yet to read, so they’ll be turned to fairly shortly. Thoroughly recommended!