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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress Reader’s Guide

By Ariel Lawhon

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon


The questions and information in this guide are intended to enhance your discussion of Ariel Lawhon’s The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress.


“Inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery, this mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression.”–PEOPLE MAGAZINE

“More meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”–THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 

They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three.
 Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Many of the scandals depicted in The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress could easily be on the cover of People magazine today.  We often tend to romanticize bygone eras like the 1930s.  Did this novel open your eyes to the fact that the more things change the more they stay the same? 

2.  What did you think when Maria returned to Judge Crater’s room and took the envelope her husband had planted there?  Was it a gutsy move or foolish?

3. There is a very unusual bond that develops between Maria, Ritzi and Stella.  How is their connection different from female friendships today?  Are there similarities?

4. The three women actually exert a tremendous amount of influence over the men in their lives, but it’s all done in a very surreptitious way.  What does this say about the dynamic between men and women in the 1930s?

5. “Only fools underestimate the strength of Stella Crater.”  Were you surprised at Stella’s evolution from seemingly “good wife” to ultimate power player?

6. There are some interesting counterpoints going on in the novel:  Jude and Maria’s happy marriage compared with Judge Crater and Stella’s marriage of convenience; Maria’s inability to have a child and Ritzi’s unwanted child.  How did these juxtapositions enhance your enjoyment of the novel?

7. Did you find the contents of Ritzi’s letter to Stella surprising?  What about Maria’s role?

8. There are many real people and events woven into the storyline.  Were you inspired to find out more about people like Judge Crater, Owney Madden, William Klein, and Ritzi?  Who was the person who intrigued you the most?

9. Who would you cast as Stella, Maria, and Ritzi if the book were to be made into a movie?

10. Judge Crater’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day.  What do you think happened to him?

About this Author

Co-founder of the popular reading blog SheReads, ARIEL LAWHON lives in Nashville with her husband and four boys.
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