Lisa Lieberman’s All the Wrong Places is more than a well-styled mystery: it’s beautiful writing. True, in the typical mode of mystery we have a young woman haunted throughout the novel by the unsolved death of her mother, with intriguing hints snaking to the surface about the mother’s hidden connection to fellow-travelers, the unraveling of her marriage, and uncertainty whether her death was suicide or at the hand of a mysterious man. But the main pleasure of this book is Lieberman’s downright literary writing. She masterfully captures the tensions of McCarthy-era Hollywood, the gritty deprivation and hazy jazz mystique of post-war England, and the wild lushness and exoticism of Italy. Reading her novel is like immersing oneself in the shadows of 1950s British noir or in the brilliant, sweeping color and Cinemascope of 1950s European location shooting. She moves you effortlessly from All Night Long and The Long Memory to Boy on a Dolphin or Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Better yet, her characters are deftly drawn, with a heroine, Cara Walden, who starts out as a troubled yet intelligent and sensitive girl then grows through mystery, social/political strife, and tempestuous romance into a strong, knowing, giving and forgiving woman. Lieberman’s characters’ genuine feelings, failings, and triumphs put a human face on the pain that racism, political persecutions, misogyny, homophobia, and the brutal destruction left by war score on the soul.
Lieberman continues Cara’s adventures with two more novels. The second in the series, Burning Cold, is set in Hungary in 1956, during the revolt from Russia, and vividly recreates the tensions and paranoia of the time and place. Amidst the treachery of a country physically and spiritually shattered by WWII, Russian oppression, and years of ethnic strife, the heroine, her husband, and her brother race against time to rescue the siblings’ newly revealed half brother before the Soviets roll back in and seal off the country for decades.
The Glass Forest, the last entry, takes Cara Walden, her husband, and her brother to Viet Nam in 1957, involving them in the filming of The Quiet American – and dangerously entangles them in the complicated, violent conflicts of C.I.A. and Viet Minh dueling for control of the people and their country. The novel embeds its taut suspense in beautifully recapturing the time, place, and culture.
I cannot recommend Lieberman’s series enough, for it is a pleasure to read that makes you think. Her Cara Walden is a woman I care about and admire – and the author does a wondrous job in recreating eras that fascinate me.