Tess Monaghan is an out-of-work investigative reporter who relies on the kindness of relatives to get by. She works a few hours a week at her Aunt Kitty’s bookstore in exchange for a third floor room in her house. Uncle Donald pays Tess out of his own pocket to do paralegal work for him. It’s been two years since she drew a legitimate paycheck, her unemployment benefits have run out, and she gets free meals by winning head to head rowing competitions with her pal, Darryl Paxton, the ‘Rock.’ The ‘Rock’ lets her win. Her friends rarely let her pick up the tab.
One day, Darryl says he’ll pay Tess to use her investigative skills to uncover why his fiancée has been acting strangely. Tess doesn’t like Ava, so she’s looking forward to making some cash while digging up some dirt, and find dirt she does. When Tess confronts Ava with the information, life takes a nasty turn for Darryl – he is arrested for murdering Ava’s boss, Abramowitz. Abramowitz, who put accused rapists back out on the street, is nobody’s favorite guy, but Tess is hard-pressed to find anybody else who looks as good as Darryl for the crime.
She is willing to break into places to get the answers she needs, and can make the most creative excuses to justify her behavior. She blackmails security guards with exposure of their wrongdoings, while blithely carrying out some criminal capers of her own. She gets away with it because of her former connections to journalism and present loose connection with a lawyer defending her best pal. Taking advantage of romantically inclined friends is not beneath her. At all.
The deftly tied together assortment of she said/she said encounters, heart-breaking murder, extortion, fraud, deceit, shattered hopes, and revenge take place in Baltimore, ‘the city that bleeds.’ One storyline allows us a glimpse into the secret life of a wealthy Baltimore family, another reveals the rigors facing a competitive rower, along with wonderful descriptions of old neighborhoods long since abandoned by polite society. This is home to Tess and she loves every raw scent of the ethnic communities that make up the whole. We know that she would never leave, and that Tess’ loyalty to Darryl is based on something more than free blueberry pancakes and races on the Patapsco. He pushes her to do more with her rowing, to be more present in her life.
Tess’ complex personality is deliciously likable. Who among us doesn’t attempt to justify our daily misdemeanors? Who wouldn’t try to undo the damage done by a well-meaning slip of the tongue? Tess just does it against the background of murder and other felonies. While quoting poetry and humming patriotic songs.
The fabulous cast of characters is as diverse as it is real. Her colorful aunt, the luscious former boyfriend, the serial killer, two VOMA members, and more… The subplots evolve naturally and the nasty types play nicely against Tess, never quite sure what she does and doesn’t know. The sparring matches reveal as much about Tess as they do about both victims and survivors.
“Baltimore Blues” is a great beginning to the eleven book (so far) series. I just downloaded the second title, “Charm City.”
New York Times bestselling author, Laura Lippman, is the recipient of the Anthony, Edgar, Shamus, and Agatha Awards.
Please visit www.Lauralippman.com for more information about Ms. Lippman, the rest of the Tess Monaghan series and her stand-alone books.