Laura Lippman

Tess Monaghan - Private Investiagor & former reporter, Baltimore, Maryland


"No Good Deeds"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky NOV 16, 2006)

The old saying that "no good deed goes unpunished" is proven once again in Laura Lippman's new Tess Monaghan novel. Tess is a Baltimore-based private investigator and former reporter who lives in harmony with her boyfriend, Edgar "Crow" Ransome, until Crow unexpectedly brings home a troubled teenager named Lloyd Jupiter. Crow is a soft touch and a do-gooder, and even after Lloyd perpetrates a scam on Crow, the kindhearted man decides to give the hungry and homeless boy a decent meal and a roof over his head. Tess is less than thrilled with this arrangement, and she is even more ticked off when Lloyd leaves in the middle of the night, planning to steal her laptop, digital camera, Lexus SUV, and other assorted items. Although Lloyd's scheme doesn't play out exactly as planned, he manages to get away and promptly disappears into the streets of Baltimore.

As it turns out, Lloyd may possess key information about the unsolved murder of Gregory Youssef, an Assistant United States Attorney who disappeared and was later found dead after having been stabbed dozens of times. Since he had been assigned to antiterrorism cases and had also prosecuted drug cases, the authorities assumed that Youssef must have been kidnapped and killed by one of the many enemies he made as a prosecutor. However, the murder remains unsolved and soon fades from the headlines. Later, rumors began to surface that Youssef may have been involved in a gay love tryst gone bad. This does not sit well with Youssef's wife, who rejects the idea as absurd. However, on the night that Lloyd stays in her home, Tess notices that when Youssef's name comes up in passing, the young man apparently recognizes it and appears very frightened and guilt-ridden.

"No Good Deeds" is a well-crafted story that seamlessly combines a number of themes: the plight of homeless and neglected children, the corrosive nature of police corruption, and the manner in which secrets and lies destroy relationships and lives. The characters are varied, lively, and well delineated. They include Gabe Delasio, a shallow and ambitious Assistant United States Attorney who desperately wants to climb through the ranks, Barry Jenkins, a washed up FBI agent, and Mike "Bully" Collins, a tough-as-nails African-American DEA agent who is bitter about having been hung out to dry after he shot a civilian during a drug bust. Each of these men has his own agenda, and when all three join forces to nail Tess and Crow, the two wind up in grave danger.

As always, Monaghan brings her native Baltimore to life, with its beauty and ugliness as well as its tranquility and violence, and there are also evocative and atmospheric scenes at the Delaware shore. Lippman's descriptive writing and dialogue are as sharp as ever, and she skillfully integrates the many disparate elements of her intricate plot into a satisfying whole. Lippman does what few suspense writers have the ability to accomplish. She creates intriguing scenarios with recognizable people whose back stories make their behavior, if not commendable, at least understandable. The best mysteries are never formulaic whodunits, but fully realized novels, and "No Good Deeds" continues the fine Lippman tradition of respecting her audience's intelligence enough to avoid predictable and hackneyed writing in favor of complex and riveting storytelling.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 21 reviews
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"By a Spider's Thread"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAY 7, 2005)

Mark Rubin, a modern Orthodox Jew, a loving husband and father, a wealthy furrier, believed himself the most fortunate of men. He thought he had the perfect family and a near flawless marriage. When his beautiful wife, Natalie, and their three children, Isaac, Penina and Efraim go missing, with no sign of foul play, the police back away from the case. The official point of view is that Mrs. Rubin probably packed-up and left with their children, whom Mark adores. This is totally incomprehensible to him. In desperation, Rubin turns to Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan, a former reporter for the Baltimore Star. She agrees to take the case, with some skepticism. Detective Monaghan has a gut feeling her new client has not been totally forthcoming with the details. He doles out vitally important information, reluctantly, in piecemeal fashion. She initially views him as a cold, controlling man, and has a bit of difficulty working with him because of their cultural differences. He just rubs her the wrong way. Also, there are very few clues on which to base the investigation. On the other hand, Tess needs the money.

Tess' full name is Theresa Esther Weinstein Monaghan. The Weinstein part of the name comes from her mother. Tess is "half" Jewish and her interaction with the Orthodox Rubin causes issues of her own to surface. She is somewhat familiar with Jewish tradition, as she is with the Monaghan family's Christianity. While not particularly observant in either religion, she finds herself reflecting on the roles faith, culture, and religion play in her own family. She realizes the importance of understanding this aspect of Mark Rubin's life in order to succeed with the investigation. Tess' Uncle Donald recommended her for this particular job. He spent years working with Ruben in a volunteer program that instructed Jewish prisoners in rituals and traditions. Eventually, other members of the program will be called upon for their assistance in resolving the mystery.

Tapping into a national network of "sister" investigators on her PC, (the SnoopSisters), Tess soon learns the location of the Rubin family. However, it seems a fifth member has been added to the entourage, a man described by witnesses as "handsome," "charming" and otherwise unremarkable. Little do they know. It soon becomes apparent that underneath the illusion of family bliss lies a web of deceit. Nothing is as it seemed. Suddenly the search becomes precarious and takes on a new urgency. Lives may be at stake.

This is Tess' eighth case and she has established quite a professional name for herself. She is recognized as a professionally competent PI, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about her personal life. Tess continues to be commitment phobic. Her very cool boyfriend, Crow, is taking a break. He's out of town visiting his mom who has been quite ill. Tess also has a problem with the impending marriage of her Aunt Kitty. By A Spider's Thread finds her alone with her two dogs, recovering from her last case's very heavy baggage and puzzling over this new job. However, Ms. Monaghan is more than a semi-neurotic, feisty detective. The lady has depth. She has evolved into a complex, vulnerable, substantial woman of wit and some significant wisdom. This latest novel, just nominated for the 2005 Edgar Award, is the best, most spellbinding Tess Monaghan mystery yet.

Multi-award winning author Laura Lippman is golden at creating and developing her characters, and it is precisely this strength that gives her plots depth and believability. Her people are not always likeable or sympathetic, but they're the real thing - human! She gives just enough clues and information to keep the suspense escalating, the tension building, but she does not give up her mysteries easily. I was absolutely riveted by this complex, multi-layered plot which holds surprises, chills and even a few laughs. Expect a thrilling conclusion!

  • Amazon readers rating: from 27 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from By a Spider's Thread at HarperCollins.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Tess Monaghan series:

Standalone Novels:

 

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About the Author:

Laura LippmanLaura Lippman was born in Georgia and raised in Baltimore. After getting a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, Laura held several reporting jobs before joining the Baltimore Sun where she was a newspaper reporter for fifteen years. Her Tess Monaghan novels have won the Edgar, Agatha, Shamus, Anthony, and Nero Wolfe Awards. Every Secret Thing won the 2004 Anthony Award.

She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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