In an author’s note, Laura Lippman explains the genesis of the protagonist of And When She Was Good, Heloise Lewis, a character she first created in 2001 and wrote about years later in two short stories.

Now Lippman has taken the time to explore Heloise and her beginnings and her today, alternating her back story for a good part of the novel, so readers can understand this woman who is meticulously organized, financially comfortable, and oh, yes, a prostitute who runs an exclusive agency.

But Heloise so much more: she’s a successful businesswoman who protects her workers; she’s a self-educated reader with a fondness for history; and she’s fiercely protective of her son, Scott, whose biological father languishes in prison and is unaware of his child.

Despite her insistence on strict compartmentalization in her life between work and home, which has left her without close friends, Heloise finds the lines starting to blur. Her vice squad protector and friend is retiring and will no longer have her back. Then an employee or two break her firm rules. When the wisp of possibility that her son’s father may be released from prison, the carefully wrought life she has constructed is in danger. Heloise is not a perfect person, but she is one with an intelligent, thinking mind and a finely-honed instinct for survival.

Val Deluca has only one way to deal with people who have lied or become a threat to him: he has them killed. And it’s  only a matter of time before the former pimp and casual murderer discovers he is in prison in the first place because Heloise betrayed him.

It is to Lippman’s credit that she is not only able to satisfactorily explain how Helen Lewis became Heloise Lewis, in a direct and unflinching way, but she manages to create a tough and resilient character you will find yourself rooting for as the pages turn.

The New York Times has compared Lippman to England’s Ruth Rendell: “Ms. Lippman writes like a warmer-blooded American Ruth Rendell, keenly observant and giving a faintly spooky charge to every stray detail.”