The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress. Finished 2-19-14, rating 4.75/5, historical fiction, 308 pages, pub. 2014
A tantalizing reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930-Justice Joseph Crater’s infamous disappearance-as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best.
They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three. Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.
Since joining the women at She Reads last September I have received a monthly treat in my mailbox – a book that I may not have chosen, but once read, I loved. This was no exception. I definitely would not have picked this up on my own (gangsters, prohibition and showgirls are not my thing really), but once I started I was immediately drawn into their world. I could feel the smoky rooms, smell the liquor and hear the jazz of the early 1930’s. The fact that this was based on a true story, the disappearance of a New York Supreme Court judge, that has never been solved added extra interest. Now that I’ve read Lawhon’s take on it I am more curious about what really happened and I’m in good company since this is a mystery that tantalized the public for a good 50 years.
Told from the perspective of the three women in Crater’s life, his perfect wife, his flashy mistress and his hard-working maid, this book keeps you on your toes as you jump from one woman to another. There were also changes in the time frame thrown in that kept me off-balance but in a good way as it kept momentum moving forward. I loved the women, although Stella did perplex me at times, and was rooting for them all to have their happy ending. There was no shortage of very bad things happening to people in the story, so a happy ending was not in the cards for everyone.
This book really did have a little bit of everything. There were really bad bad guys, politicians without morals, the glitz of New York City, sexy showgirls, hardworking people trying to better themselves, lies, heartbreak, and, of course, murder. I loved it.
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