22 June 2010

Review: Charm City by Laura Lippman

Charm City is the second entry in the Tess Monaghan series by Laura Lippman. This review assumes you've read the first book (Baltimore Blues review) and does not include spoilers for the second.

Tess Monaghan's life is definitely on the upswing. First, she's got a decent job as a budding private investigator with lawyer and rowing instructor Tyner Gray. Second, she has a cute younger boyfriend named Crow, who's a musician by night and bookstore clerk by day. Plus, she's still living cheaply in the apartment above her aunt Kitty's store.

When local businessman Wink Wynkowski decides to bring pro basketball to Baltimore, two reporters from the Beacon-Light, start digging into his less-than-law-abiding past. The paper's editors put a hold on the article, but it shows up on the front page anyway. After the story results in an apparent suicide, Tess is hired to investigate the newspaper's staff and discover who hacked into the computers, bumping the squelched piece into publication.

In the meantime, Tess's uncle Spike has been beaten into a coma, and while he is known for his shady dealings, no one knows what brought about his current troubles. While Spike is in the hospital, Tess and Crow take over the care of his dog, Esskay, a newly rescued greyhound.

Tess finds herself involved not only with the Beacon-Light case but also in Spike's business with the sleazy side of Baltimore. She is being threatened on all sides and is pressured to solve the cases before anyone else dies.

There are many things to love about Charm City, especially Lippman's descriptions of Baltimore. Tess's extended family is fun to get to know, and her developing relationship with Crow seems to be a grounding force in her life. Because Tess is still learning the PI trade, it is realistic that she would make mistakes and not always see what's coming.

On the other hand, the two distinct plot lines—Uncle Spike and Wink Wynkowski—were almost a distraction. It wasn't clear if they were going to converge into a single story or whether we'd have two sets of bad guys. It was sometimes confusing to keep the details straight.

The flaws in this novel are likely the result of a sophomore slump. The characters who are important to Tess are more clearly delineated in this second entry than in the first, and Tess is starting to grow up. Both developments are encouraging, and we can hope for a tighter third in the series.

The unabridged audio recording (BBC America) of Charm City was read by Deborah Hazlett, who also read the first in the series. As I noted in my earlier review, Hazlett's narration is nicely done with easy pacing and natural inflections. Unfortunately, there were a couple moments of mispronunciations, most notably "cedar" for the Passover Sedar. Regardless, I am looking forward to hearing Hazlett read the next Tess Monaghan novel.

Laura Lippman has a website where you can learn more about her work and read a biography of Tess Monaghan. There is also more information on her author page at the HarperCollins website.

Charm City at Powell's
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Published by HarperCollins / Avon, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780380788767
Challenges: Audiobook, Buy One and Read, Laura Lippman, Cozy Mystery, 100+
YTD: 53
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Serena 6/22/10, 7:32 AM  

I have one Laura Lippman book I borrowed from a friend, but still have not read it. I'll have to give her a try soon.

Sandy Nawrot 6/22/10, 7:46 AM  

I've heard about this series a number of times, and seems like something I would enjoy. I do get frustrated with the sheer volume of series out there though! I could spend my entire life chasing them and never get close to touching them all. We all have our favorites!

S. Krishna 6/22/10, 9:26 AM  

I just read Baltimore Blues last week, so I'm definitely looking forward to this one. Glad to know about the sophomore slump in advance though!

Heather 6/22/10, 9:46 AM  

It seems like I've read a Laura Lippman novel, but now I'm wondering if I'm confusing her with Eleanor Lipman... ANYWAY, I'm not sure I need another series right now, but this sounds fun enough for me to check out once I catch up on some. Glad the reader is pretty good!

Jen - Devourer of Books 6/22/10, 10:00 AM  

I'm really going to have to read Laura Lippman one of these days, aren't I?

Julie P. 6/22/10, 1:31 PM  

I remember reading a Lippman book or two and really enjoying it (them?)

Jenners 6/22/10, 2:43 PM  

I'm going to have to start this series soon.

bermudaonion 6/22/10, 3:00 PM  

I read some of Lippman's books years ago and enjoyed them. I can't remember if this was one of them or not.

caite 6/22/10, 7:43 PM  

I have read some of her standalone books and one or two in this series, but not the early ones...which might be a good thing.

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