This was one of those novels that made me constantly hope for the death of the protagonist. Not the demise. Not the financial ruin. Death. As most of And When She Was Good is told in the present tense, I thought that this was a legitimate possibility, which is the only justification I can offer for the fact that I did, indeed, finish the book. What I am about to say will not spoil the ending, but it does have the potential to spare you your own time and suffering: she does not die.
Helen Lewis (alias Helouise Lewis) is a suburban single mom that secretly owns a very profitable escort service (unbeknownst to her conservative neighbors as well as her own son, Scott). When Helen/Helouise learns of another “suburban madam” that has been murdered, she considers a career change. This proves difficult, however, as she is being pulled in a million directions financially – mainly from people looking to blackmail and or embezzle from her. She has her baby daddy/ex-pimp demanding his share of the escort service (he is a silent partner from prison, where he is serving a life sentence for murder). Then, she has an employee claiming that she contracted HIV on the job and now wants handsomely compensated. Oh, and then there’s Helen/Helouise’s estranged mother, who has been diagnosed with ALS and now suddenly wants a relationship with her grandson. And then an ex-colleague gets murdered.
There is way too much going on here. It’s not even entertaining. It’s stressful. It was exhausting trying to keep straight all of the people from Helen/Helouise’s past and present while attempting to even remember what name this woman is currently using. This lady is a calculating business woman with no empathy for the murdered women and no sense of responsibility for her role in any of the numerous crimes that occur throughout this novel. And yet, I get the feeling that Lippman feels she has created a strong female lead – a woman that supports the legalization of prostitution because it may actually strengthen some marriages and that men in power want to keep it illegal because it enables women to make money. This is no down-on-her-luck prostitute story, as much as Lippman would probably argue to the contrary. Helen/Helouise comes across as greedy and narcissistic. She is not likable nor admirable. And by the end of the book, unfortunately, she is not dead either.