She Reads February Book Club Review: The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher/Publication Date: Doubleday (1/14/2014)

Source:  She Reads Book Club

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks-one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale-of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

My Review:

One word: WOW!  This novel has so many twists and turns, debauchery, infidelity, infertility, mistresses, maids with a little too much information, and a corrupt system.  I love books that mix fact with fiction, weaved together by one creative mind: Ariel Lawhon’s!

This is not a quick read, by any means, as there are a lot of characters important to the storyline-that you will want to know.  I did find myself getting confused with the year/dates, as the story does jump back to before Crater’s disappearance, to after his disappearance, and then later in life.  Based on the real life mystery surrounding Joseph Crater’s disappearance, there are 3 women, who Ariel shines light on.  While there are creative liberties used to fill in the gap of information not know, Ariel’s writing is seamless and the story flows like a true crime novel should.

I absolutely loved the characters Ariel creates to help make the story well rounded (won’t reveal who…you have to read it!), and the characters she expounds on-who were quite interesting and fascinating to read about.  This is a fantastic story, with everyone being a suspect…even the police. Set in the 1930’s, Ariel captures the glamour, the seediness of the club-limited to showgirls, corrupt politicians, and mobsters, corrupt political systems and the impact it has on an affluent family, murder suspicion, three women who are connected in one way or another, which just kept me fully engaged the whole time.

I am blown away by this fantastic historical fiction novel, written by a first time author, who read a lot of conspiracy theories, novels, newspaper clippings, and somewhere in all of that research material-she brings forth this incredible novel!! An excellent novel for book club discussions, for anyone that loves political/true unsolved crime novels, and historical fiction.

*Thanks to She Reads Book Club for providing this book as our February Book Club Pick!


Ariel LawhonAriel Lawhon is the co-founder of the popular online book club She Reads ( A novelist, blogger, and life-long reader, she lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart. THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, just released this month from Doubleday.

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