28 February 2010

Review: Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

Tess Monaghan isn't sure what she what she's all about. She lost her newspaper job as the result of a merger and now supports herself by working for family members. She manages to get by because she lives in an apartment above her aunt's bookstore and has friends who take care of her.

The one thing Tess is sure about is that she loves to row and almost never misses an early morning practice with her good friend Darryl "Rock" Paxton. When Rock suspects that his fiance may be having an affair, he offers to pay Tess to do some informal private investigating.

Tess doesn't feel comfortable about trailing Ava, but for thirty bucks an hour, she thinks, "What the heck?" Her work sets off a chain of events that leads to a murder and the arrest of an innocent person. Thus Tess teams up with Tyner Gray, a rowing coach and attorney, to help clear his client's good name.

Baltimore Blues is the first in Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series. Tess may be confused about her life calling, but she is pretty sure about herself. She's smart, strong, and loyal. Although her independent and headstrong streaks take her down paths that others would avoid, she is not careless, only a bit naive; after all, the only kind of investigating she knows is that of a journalist.

One of the joys of Baltimore Blues is how deeply we are planted into the city of Baltimore. The neighborhoods, the waterfront, the history, the people--we are introduced to it all. East Coast readers will nod approvingly of Tess's food choices, brands and flavors that cry Mid-Atlantic Region. And one can only imagine the reaction of those familiar with the restaurants that Tess frequents, although her tastes run more to burgers and fries than to champagne and caviar.

But what about the murder mystery? Lippman presents enough red herrings to throw you off track but does not waste time distracting you needlessly. The characters and the clues were given throughout the novel; however, readers may not find it easy to put them all together much before Tess and Tyner do. In the end, the pieces combine to build a logical solution; Lippman did not have to rely on magic tricks to tie up the crime. Although the novel explores Tess's personal life, it is a bit grittier than a typical cozy.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (by BBC Audiobooks America) read by Deborah Hazlett. Hazlett does a fine job presenting Tess as an intelligent, level-headed young woman. Her portrayal of the other characters got the job done without flourish, which fit the mood of Baltimore Blues quite well.

Laura Lippman has a website where you can learn more about her work and read a biography of Tess Monaghan.

Published by HarperCollins, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780380788750

Challenges: New Author, Audiobook, What's in a Name, Laura Lippman, 2010, 100+
YTD: 18
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+


Darren @ Bart's Bookshelf 3/11/10, 2:26 PM  

Hi Beth, thanks for submitting this one to the carnival!

Lenore 3/12/10, 8:33 AM  

Strangely enough, all three of the Laura Lippman I've read so far have been standalones, so I am not yet acquainted with Tess.

wordlily 3/12/10, 8:34 AM  

This one's sitting on my shelf, calling plaintively to me. I'm in the middle of Lippman's Life Sentences right now.

Julie 3/12/10, 8:35 AM  

I've only read one Laura Lippman book but I do remember really liking it!

bermudaonion 3/12/10, 8:35 AM  

I read some of Lippman's work years ago and really enjoyed it. This one sounds soo good.

Dorte H 3/12/10, 8:36 AM  

I have heard much good about Lippman, and I can see I will probably have to put her on the list.

Beth Hoffman,  3/12/10, 8:36 AM  

I haven't read Lippman in years, and this one sounds like it should be added to my list. Thanks!

Wendy 3/12/10, 8:37 AM  

I bought this one last year to see if I wanted to read the whole series...it is still on my TBR pile! But I'll get to it this year. I just finished Life Sentences by Lippman (my review will post on Wednesday for a TLC book tour) and enjoyed it...but I have yet to read one of her gritty mysteries!

trish 3/12/10, 8:39 AM  

I love mysteries, so I'm excited to get into her Tess Monaghan series. Her early ones were particularly quite well received, so I'm looking forward to starting it. I love when authors get an area just right. Some authors have a better knack at that than others.

maryb 3/12/10, 8:39 AM  

Someone recommended Baltimore Blues and Laura Lippman to me last year and I ended up reading the whole Tess Monaghan series, one right after the other. They get better and better. And unlike some mysteries, they never seem formulaic. One of the mysteries involves the mysterious visitor to Edger Allen Poe's grave, which I didn't know about until I read her book. And then this year, for the first time he failed to show up!

Lippman is married to David Simon, the writer/producer of The Wire on HBO which was also set in Baltimore. So occasionally you would see a character on The Wire reading a Laura Lippman book. And the last Tess Monaghan novel that came out involved a television crew filming a series in Baltimore.

ruthdfw 3/12/10, 8:40 AM  

Sounds like a good book, enjoyed your review.

Kay 3/12/10, 8:41 AM  

I have read one of Lippman's standalones, but have not taken on the challenge of this series yet. it does sound good. I think I might see if I can get my hands on the audio. Thanks for sharing!

Molly 3/12/10, 8:41 AM  

I listened to about half of What the Dead Know but then I had to return it to the library. I really enjoyed the plotline and the writing style. I will have to check out her Tess Monaghan series.

Beth @ 990 Square 3/12/10, 8:42 AM  

I'm a proud Baltimore girl, but I'm sad to say I've never read a Lippman book. I blame it on my lukewarmness towards mysteries/thrillers. But one of these days I'll try!

greg butierrez,  3/12/10, 8:43 AM  

Sounds great. I've read some of her other work. Thanks for the review!

S. Krishna 3/12/10, 8:44 AM  

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. This is one of the many books I have on my e-reader, maybe I'll get to it this weekend. (Ha, yeah right. That and about 50 other books).

Jenners 3/12/10, 9:09 AM  

I have her book "What the Dead Know" to try later this year.

caite 3/12/10, 9:10 AM  

I have read a couple of the Tess books, but not this one. Which is unusual since I usually read a series in order. I need to correct this it seems.

Jeanne 3/14/10, 9:01 PM  

I loved this one, as the friend who recommended it to me knew I would, because it's a good mystery in itself, it's the start of a great series, and it's definitely rooted in Baltimore, a place I miss visiting since I moved to the middle of the country.

Tribute Books 3/22/10, 1:46 PM  

thanks for the review, sounds good, love mysteries.

Tribute Books 3/22/10, 1:48 PM  

love mysteries,sounds good, thanks!

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