The moment I started reading And When She was Good by Laura Lippman, I knew I had to do a review on it, for the themes and questions it presented. The story follows Heloise Lewis, a high-price madam in Washington, D.C., who gets swept up in a murder investigation after another suburban madam dies under suspicious circumstances and Val, her former pimp and a murderer, could get out of prison.
The novel goes between the present, as Heloise encounters a variety of problems as a madam midst the murder investigation, and the past, when she was Helen Lewis, a book-smart girl that turns to prostitution after fleeing an abusive family situation. The writing was very good, but I enjoyed the Helen chapters more than the Heloise chapters. While the concept was interesting, the plot ultimately fell flat for me. It took forever for things to happen in the Heloise chapters, while the Helen chapters, everything seemed to happen all at once. I think it is because of the inconsistent pacing is why it took me so long to read And When She was Good, despite it being barely over 300 pages long.
The reason that pushed me to keep reading And When she was Good was the characters, particularly Heloise and Val. Heloise is a strong female lead that survived on her instincts, using what limited resources she had, including her body. Having never finished high school, she read books to help cope with her situation as well as to educate herself and she just loves to learn new things in general. She is also a good mother, wanting only the best for her son Scott. But despite coming off as self-assured, Heloise makes many mistakes, both past and present, out of self-preservation.
Another element I enjoyed in the novel was the dynamic between Heloise and Val. If there is a “villain” in this story, you could pick Val. He was psychotic and unpredictable. He emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically abused Heloise. He was a pimp and a killer, the scum of society. And yet, unlike most of the other men in Heloise’s life, including her long-time protector, a detective named Tom, Val respects Heloise’s intellect. She continues to visit him in prison in the present day, and their conversations are about things such as books and business techniques. You would never have guessed Val was once her pimp.
As for the rest of the characters, most were not as fleshed-out as Heloise. In fact, some of the male side characters, like Tom, were more like stereotypes of men often portrayed in media. Some of the female side characters, like two of Heloise’s escorts, are two-dimensional, which was disappointing because both of those girls, Sophie and Anna Marie, were scheming in different ways to make changes to laws around prostitution. (Side note: trigger warning for sexual assault)
Lastly, I enjoyed the questions And When She was Good presented about prostitution and its insights on the female gender. Who is prostitution hurting, so long as both parties are consenting adults? Does a woman’s life lose value if she used her body to make money?
Overall, I give And When She was Good by Laura Lippman 3 stars. It had a morally gray female lead and a fascinating “villain,” as well as presented some interesting questions about a very big societal issue. But ultimately the story fell flat for me and it took forever for anything major to happen. I would say that, if you enjoy Lifetime suspense movies, or just Lifetime movies in general, I highly recommend you check out And When She was Good.