Dream Girl by Laura Lippman

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This is the second of Laura Lippman’s books I’ve written about, and like Lady in the Lake it has many of the characteristics of the Tess Monaghan detective series I’ve listened to, as well as qualities that set it apart. Tess even makes an appearance in this one, but finds the location so creepy she won’t take the job.

The main character is a successful author who has recently moved to Baltimore to care for his dying mother. After his mother died, Gerry has a fall from the upper floor of his fancy apartment, is bedridden, and takes heavy drugs for his pain. The complicated tale has elements of the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? scenario. ┬áHe is cared for by an assistant he barely knows during the day and a night nurse who is vague and inattentive and thus is helpless and isolated. Then began the ghostly calls in the night with an accusation that the character in his most successful novel was created by someone else. In the end we learn that he did indeed create the character himself, wasn’t writing about a person he knew, and didn’t steal anyone’s work.

Lippman tells the story by reaching back over the years to recount various bits of his life, including the strange tale of his father. He was a traveling salesman who left his mother and created a new family. Gerry sometimes heard someone in bed with his mother and we finally realize she welcomed the father’s visits. Gerry did not want to be as bad a person as his father was. He was defensive about his three marriages and could always put the blame elsewhere.

One of the movie scenarios that I avoid is the “trapped person” movie, so I was feeling anxious as I listened to this book. Fortunately I was able to accept Gerry’s prospects realistically and just enjoy the ride. As usual Lippman filled the book with literary and movie references that were entertaining. And yes, she does mention What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Laura Lippman, Dream Girl, Harper-Collins, 2021, 310 pages. Available in the public library.

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