By Laura Lippman

William Morrow, 2012 ($26.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-06-170687-5

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Heloise, nee Helen, Lewis, hears her neighbors talking dismissively about a local madam who got busted, then committed suicide, and decides to defend her. These women have not had to walk in her shoes. Heloise has. Despite outward appearances that would cause one to believe she is a typical soccer mom, she, too, is a madam, with a select clientele and a foolproof business plan. At least she's always believed it was foolproof. For ten years, she has led a charmed life. Events are now under way that will shake that life to the core.

Heloise comes from an extremely dysfunctional family. Her father Hector was cruel and vicious, her mother ineffectual, always deferring to him at the expense of her daughter. The girl escaped that hell by running away with her boyfriend, but ended up in another hell of prostitution, dominated by a sadistic pimp who controlled her every move. She was able to have his child without his knowledge, played a part in his going to prison, and escaped once again to build a life for her and her child.

She tells the neighbors in her plush Maryland suburb she is a widow, and she works as a lobbyist as a cover for her real means of support. She works within the law, at least as far as the IRS is concerned, and she provides a comfortable life for her female "employees," complete with health care and workers comp provisions. She has one good friend, who is also her best client, and a protector, a cop who loves her and knows her whole troubled history. Both may be moving on. The cop gives her the bad news that her child's father may be getting out of prison, despite his belief that it would never happen. She knows the man will come for her, and she is terrified. She survived him once, but she doesn't know if she can do it again. A trusted employee may be betraying her, and another may be scamming her.

Heloise is resilient and resourceful, and she will not give in to the seemingly insurmountable odds. One might not approve of her chosen profession, but it is difficult not to root for her to triumph. Ms. Lippmann has created another protagonist who demonstrates the strength of the human spirit. Heloise first appeared in a short story, but she obviously had a bigger tale to tell, and a fine one it is.

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