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Baltimore Blues: The First Tess Monaghan Novel Mass Market Paperback – November 29, 2011
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"Killers of the Flower Moon" is a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
Downsized ex-reporter Tess Monaghan spends her days working part-time at the bookstore owned by sexy Aunt Kitty and trying not to fall into the disgustingly polluted Patapsco from her city-owned boat. When rowing buddy Rocky pays her what looks like a fortune to follow his fiance, the trail leads to murder with Rocky the prime suspect. "Uneven" is the word for this first novel-hometown and newspaper backgrounds are alive from page one, but characters are cartoons until chapter 15 (out of 30) when Tess investigates the victim. Suddenly the story perks up to a believable pageturner. If Lippman continues the promise of the second half of Baltimore Blues while adhering to advice attributed to Elmore Leonard to cut out the parts people won't read, mystery fans can anticipate an engrossing series.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Laura Lippman deserves to be a big star." -- -- Julie Smith, author of House of Blues
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Top Customer Reviews
This first in the series finds heroine Tess teetering on the brink of 30, and somewhat adrift following the closing down of the newspaper she worked at. She lives in a cheap apartment above her aunt's bookstore, and barely makes ends meet working as a clerk in the store and doing an odd job for an uncle. Her personal life is equally in flux, as she doesn't exactly have a slew of friends, and her love life is vacant, save for the random booty-call by her ex-boyfriend who cheats on his current girlfriend with Tess. The one constant in her life is a daily crack-of-dawn appointment with her racing shell and the Patapsco river.
This daily exercise has led to a friendship with another avid rower, Darryl Paxton. One day he hires her to check up on the activities of his type-A fiancee, and thus Tess embarks on her first session of amateur sleuthing. However, what starts as a fairly simple tailing job turns into a high profile murder case, as the fiancee's high-profile boss at a prestigious law firm has his head bashed in. Darryl is charged with the murder, and Tess is put to work by his defense lawyer as a gopher/investigator. Of course, when a lawyer is killed, one has to start digging into his past cases and soon Tess is following all kinds of threads in an attempt to clear Darryl.
The book definitely feels like a debut -- it starts sluggishly and takes far too long to pick up speed, as Lippman struggles with pacing. Many of the supporting cast are archetypes (the brassy aunt, the ambitious journalist, the patrician lawyer, the breezily confidant best friend) rather than full-figured characters, and few are colorful or engaging enough to want to spend more time with. Tess herself is somewhat generically flawed and feisty character, rather more clueless and prone to blundering than seems reasonable. However one can see glimmers of what could become a rich series character with further development.
The writing is also uneven when it comes to the various relationships. For example, Tess and Rock's easy friendship is handled quite well, however her reaction to the killing of someone close to her doesn't seem to distress her nearly as much as one might expect. The plotting is also somewhat uneven, as at times the reader will be three steps ahead of Tess and grow weary of waiting for the amateur to catch up, while near the end, events start to unfold much more rapidly and with more surprises. Many reviewers have lauded the Baltimore setting as amazing, and while I found the details all quite accurate, they never felt like much more than deliberate local color. Of course, I'm fairly familiar with Baltimore, so perhaps it's all a little more fascinating for others. In any event, it's not a great debut, but not a bad one either, and I'll probably read the next two to see if it gets better.
First, I must say that I enjoyed the book immensely. Tess is 29 years old, a Baltimore native (where these books are set), who is trying to get out of the rut she has been in ever since the newspaper she was working for folded two years previous. A friend offers to pay her if Tess will follow his fiancé, who may or may not be having an affair. Tess agrees, as she needs the money, and when the lawyer that the fiancé has been seen with winds up dead after Tess' friend Rock assaults him, things look bad for Rock.
This book was set in 1993, and reading it now, it is strange to think that things like cell phones were a novelty. Also, there was no Google or Siri or Alexa at this time, and Ms. Lippman really impresses with her ability to explain how searches are done for many different things, such as researching a charity or how and where documents are filed in the State of Maryland. It was much harder to get information about people before the internet. I am constantly amazed when I read books from this period (just prior to the internet) even though I was there and did research myself at that time. I keep thinking "She could just Google that ", and then I remember...
I am very much looking forward to the next book, as I really enjoy this character. She has my dream living space- over a bookstore, and has a nutty family that is in many ways similar to mine. This book is a mystery, but it also shows a good bit of humor.