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NewYork Times’ bestselling author Laura
Lippman has been quoted as personally
liking “books steeped in the quotidian –
details about work and place – you can
learn how to run a chicken-and-waffle
restaurant by reading ‘Mildred Pierce’.”
Following this reasoning, a woman could
set up shop as a suburban madam with
details provided in Lippman’s compelling
thriller, “AndWhen SheWas Good.”
Lippman skilfully alternates the story
between the present-day sophisticated,
elegant Heloise (known only as “Scott’s
Mom” in the upscale suburb where they
live) and the badly mistreated Helen Lewis,
the drab girl Heloise used to be.
(Hint: to
avoid confusion, pay attention to the Chapter
It’s through Helen’s story that Lippman
shows how it is possible for an intellectually
curious, straight-A student to be swept into
the world of prostitution.
Helen was born into a toxic family situation;
an abusive father and an overly passive
mother who didn’t protect her. Hector
Lewis not only physically beat Helen, he
psychologically tried to make her feel that
she was worthless, i.e. “You have a nothing
face.”He also forced her to get a job which
interfered with her school work. At the
restaurant Il Cielo, she was vulnerable to
the attention of the drug-addicted stepson
of the owner. Infatuated with the idea of
someone actually loving her, Helen agreed
to elope with Billy but something always
delayed the actual marriage. Eventually,
she was forced to do lap dances in a strip
joint to finance Billy’s drug habit. She was
desperate to escape Billy when she met Val
Deluca, who invited her to be lead girl in
his luxurious compound. Now Helen finds
herself in a much worse situation – the
organized crime version of prostitution.
The quotidian of this hooker harem was
totally claustrophobic. Helen’s only escape
was to sneak off to the library and lose
herself in the Great Books. It was in this
hooker harem that Helen developed a clas-
sic “Stockholm Syndrome” attraction to her
pimp – the owner Val Deluca, who was also
a drug dealer and crime boss. He was total-
ly amoral, but he had a quick brain. They
both enjoyed the intellectual interaction. It
was only when she became pregnant with
Val’s baby that she was shocked into the
realization that she needed to make sure
that her child would not be born into this
sleazy world. “This child must never know
its father.” It was at that moment that Helen
really became Heloise, and she made a
ruthless decision.
In a fit of anger four years earlier, the
redheaded Val had shot one of his posse,
almost casually, in front of witnesses.
Heloise gave him up to the vice cop who
had arrested her for shoplifting a preg-
nancy kit. She even knew the location of
the incriminating weapon. When Val was
safely behind bars, Heloise went home to
have her baby boy. Val was sentenced to
life in prison for the murder, after narrowly
escaping a death sentence.
Ten years later, Heloise has established a
new identity with her redheaded son Scott.
To the neighbours, she’s the beautiful, re-
clusive single mom who has a boring job in
Washington, but who never misses any of
her son’s school or athletic events. He is the
centre of her universe, and is the spitting
image of his daddy.
Ten years later, even behind bars, Val Deluca
is still so dangerous that Heloise visits him
twice a month in prison and always takes
along his cut. Val had helped her concep-
tualize her business model when she first
started. He based it on
To the IRS, Heloise is a lobbyist with several
women on her payroll, and a medical
plan. Her firm is called the “Women’s Full
Employment Network.”
Actually, WFEN is an upscale, lucrative
escort service outside of Washington D.C.
You won’t find salacious bedroom details
in this book. It’s all about the “business” of
being a madam in the information age.
Heloise recruits beautiful girls from local
colleges. Girls who temporarily want to
“work much less and earn much more.”
Clients must be referrals from longtime
regulars. All customers are screened by a
private investigator, and must submit to
regular blood tests.
Heloise is so cautious about everything,
but her carefully constructed world is start-
ing to crumble. Her sleazy accountant is
starting to ask questions. One of her girls is
attempting to claim workers’ compensation
for contracting HIV while in her employ.
Former colleagues are threatening black-
mail. Most threatening…Val Deluca may be
released from prison and other witnesses
to the murder are dying frommysterious
accidents or “suicide.”
Heloise makes a life-altering decision. She
will close the firm and start a new life with
Scott in another country. But can she stay
alive long enough to get away? You’ll have
to read the book to find out. This is a thriller
after all – and a page-turner.
In, “AndWhen SheWas Good,” Lippman
explores the world of prostitution with
care, consideration and empathy but, in
the end, it’s about the role of women in this
complicated world. Heloise speaks for all
women when she refuses to be defined by
what she does. Enjoy!
By Laura Lippman
Harperluxe, $28.99, 442 pages
Willa McLean
is a
freelance writer who
lives in Brampton.
And When She Was Good