If you haven't encountered Tess Monaghan, the strong-willed former reporter turned PI who stars in Laura Lippman's increasingly popular series, it may be because this is her first appearance in hardcover. But this deftly plotted mystery may change all that and bring Lippman, herself a Baltimore journalist, and Tess, her curious and likable heroine, the attention they deserve. When Tess's dad asks her to do a favor for a friend, Tess gets involved in tracking down the identity of a nameless girl whose killer, the friend's brother, was murdered himself shortly after he went to prison for the crime. Her search leads Tess in and out of parts of the Atlantic coast that tourists, and many natives, never see: to a clinic for the rich, young and anorexic on Maryland's Eastern Shore; to the Philadelphia Main Line; and inside the corrupt and clandestine corners of the Maryland state capitol in Annapolis. The more Tess learns, the more questions she has, and the most important ones have to do with her father's involvement in the mystery of the anonymous victim and how she died.
The subtext of this well-written, richly rendered thriller is Tess's confrontation with her own values and her struggle to accept her father's compromises with his. There's also a sexy love story with Tess's boyfriend, who's nearly too good to be true, and a lively gal pal, the wealthy and loyal Whitney, whose own talents are equally impressive. The author is good at developing multidimensional characters, the minor ones as well as the majors. And once your appetite is whetted by The Sugar House, you'll want to track down Tess's earlier adventures in Lippman's (paper) backlist, beginning with Baltimore Blues. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Glue-sniffing teen Henry Dembrow goes to prison after confessing to killing a young Jane Doe found with a small rubber hose tied in a bow around her neck. A month later he, too, is dead. Coincidence? Ruthie Dembrow, Henry's sister, has her doubts and asks former Baltimore reporter Tess Monaghan, the heroine of this first (and first-rate) hardcover in a justly acclaimed series, to investigate. Tess agrees only because her father, Patrick, says he owes Ruthie one. Going over the facts of the crime, Tess realizes that she needs to identify the victim and to learn how the victim came to know her alleged killer. On the home front, Patrick's disapproval of her current love, Crow, strains their relationship. Edgar and Agatha winner Lippman (Charm City; In Big Trouble), a feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, really knows her town. She takes Tess far from the tourist stops into crumbling, neglected parts of the historic port city and beyond. Annapolis, a questionable clinic on the Eastern Shore and Philadelphia all figure in Tess's struggle to uncover the connections between a sordid killing and the pursuit of wealth and power in the state capital. As she digs deeper with assists from her wealthy pal, Whitney, major players begin to squirm and lives and reputations are in danger, including her own. Far from perfect, Tess finds she must carefully consider the compromises others have made for good or ill while not straying too far from her own principles. Nobody gets away clean, but some scores are settled, which at times has to be enough. (Sept.)
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