"And When She Was Good" (William Morrow), by Laura Lippman

The newspaper headline screams "Suburban Madam Dead In Apparent Suicide." Heloise Lewis, a single mom raising a young boy, sees it at a Starbucks and is full of sympathy.

"She could have been my neighbor," she explains to a couple of chatty but irritable strangers in the waiting line. "She was someone's neighbor. Someone's daughter, someone's sister, someone's mother."

In fact, the suburban madam could have been Heloise Lewis.

Heloise, the heroine of this suspenseful and intriguing thriller, "And When She Was Good," is the cautious operator of a successful call-girl ring drawing discreet clients around Baltimore, Washington and the Maryland state capital at Annapolis. She provides well-paying work for a half-dozen attractive young women, takes her cut when they turn tricks and pockets even more at her own assignations.

But her livelihood in the sex trade is coming apart, threatening her other, more reputable life as a soccer mom who prefers privacy and uses a lobbying agency, the Women's Full Employment Network, as a cover.

By the end, the threats are even deadly.

Laura Lippman, an award-winning mystery writer, skillfully draws a portrait of a woman on the edge, making Heloise's dark and gritty career choice understandable and her struggle to get out alive a truly scary narrative.

It's a page turner from the start. Lippman alternates chapters between the painful early years, beginning in 1989 when the teenage Helen Lewis is abused by her father and flees into the arms of manipulative, dangerous men, and the fall of 2011, when she has changed her name to Heloise Lewis and tries to arrange a flight from impending death and disaster with her 11-year-old son in tow.

Lippman does not shy from the seediness of the subject matter, but the acts of fleshy intimacy are more alluded to than recounted in sordid or sizzling who-did-what detail. Heloise makes bad decisions and plays a role in bloodshed. But Lippman is also making a case for Heloise as a woman with drive and intelligence, deep love for her child but a hard-to-reach heart — a woman, in short, who could live next door.

Heloise is a different, disquieting kind of heroine. While some readers may find her moneymaking activities distasteful, maybe even a bit unbelievable, it's hard not to pull for her. In the end, it's even harder to forget her.