I liked the characters; the plot was decent, but not great; but the writing felt very choppy in places. I'm from Baltimore, so I knew the places she was describing, but it still felt like there were some unwritten assumptions being made for us to fill in.
Geraldine B. reviewed Baltimore Blues (Tess Monaghan, Bk 1) on
Helpful Score: 4
Lippman's books (Baltimore Blues, Butcher's Hill, The Sugar House) are well-written and entertaining. There are a lot of local references to Baltimore, and a lot of, apparently, local dialect that I had trouble understanding. Usually I like stories where the locale is part of the story, but did not enjoy these as much as some others.
No spoilers. Being from Baltimore, the works of Ms. Lippman appeal to me (I recall reading her father's articles in the Baltimore Sun years back). The mystery here is average, but the local color puzzled me. Ms. Lippman is supposed to show how much she loves Baltimore in her Tess Monaghan books; the impression I get is not love, but a neutral (at best) feeling.
After reading some of Laura Lippman's other great stand alone mysteries, I decided I really wanted to get into the Tess Monaghan series. I started at book 1 which was written in 1997, so VCR and pay phones were still the norm, but the book, plot and story can still stand the test of time. The main character so real, that you want to know her more. Some of the writing was so well done, it was amazing. She describes a building as being embarrassed to find itself placed in Baltimore, and that is just one example. This is more of a old gumshoe feel to it than, a thriller, or a new chicklit cozy, or a CSI/DNA infused mystery. I think you will enjoy this series and want to read more and more about Tess and her friends and family.
This is the first of Lippman's books I've read, and since I'm from the Baltimore area, I gave it a try. I thought the book was awfully slow, and I just couldn't work up a liking for Tess. I plan on reading the next one in the series to see if I like it any better than this first one.
What I did enjoy were some things that I had completely forgotten about. BWI Airport used to be Friendship Airport and that really jogged my memory on that. I knew the places and streets pretty well, but the overall story seemed to drag, and a few things were predictable. I thought the plot was a little weak. I'll try again, though, with this author. It's just the first in a series, so not reading another wouldn't be fair judgment.
This is the opening salvo from a new voice in mystery novels (at least in 1997, when this was written) Laura Lippman. She has created a newspaper-reporter-turned-sleuth character, Tess Monaghan. At 29, Tess seems to be drifting. Her comfortable world ended when the Baltimore newspaper she worked for folded and the Baltimore Light did not hire her.
She spends her time sculling (early mornings) and exercising (weights in the pm) most days. One day, a friend and fellow-sculler asks Tess to follow his fiancée and find out why shes upset. Having met the fabulous Ava before, Tess doesnt like her and cannot understand what Rock (the fiancée who has hired Tess) sees in this cold, self-centered, beautiful woman.
Tess starts following the woman; Avas boss is murdered and Rock is accused of the crime. As Tess investigates, things get more complicated and another body falls.
This is a fairly complicated plot, with lots of red herrings. Considerable time is spent introducing the reader to the cast of characters who will return in future Tess novels. Our heroine, Tess, is interesting: She makes mistakes, is called lazy by some of her friends, but shows a flair for private investigative work. 4 stars
1. Baltimore Blues (1997)
2. Charm City (1997)
This book was hard for me to get into. I felt like half the time Lippman was just reciting a history of Baltimore buildings. It might seem that way to me because I grew up around Baltimore City, but her descriptions of the city were dry. The characters progressed slowly and I found myself not understanding a character's motivation for certain actions. I felt the characters were also dry, and realized a third of the way through that I didn't really care what happened to any of them. This might be because I couldn't relate to any of them. This book is probably great for a different type of person but I ended up unable to finish it.
In a city where someone is murdered almost every day, attorney Michael Abramowitz's death should be just another statistic. But the slain lawyer's notoriety-and his taste for illicit midday trysts-makes the case front page news in every local paper except the Star, which crashed and burned before Abramowitz did. A former Star reporter who knows every inch of this town-from historic Fort McHenry to the crumbling projects of Cherry Hill-now-unemployed journalist Tess Monaghan also knows the guy the cops like for the killing: cuckolded fiance' Darryl "Rock" Paxton. The time is ripe for a career move, so when rowing buddy Rock wants to hire her to do some unorthodox snooping to help clear his name, Tess agrees. But there are lethal secrets hiding in the Charm City shadows. And Tess's own name could end up on that ever-expanding list of Baltimore dead.
First Line: On the last night of August, Tess Monaghan went to the drugstore and bought a composition book-- one with a black-and-white marble cover.
After her paper, The Baltimore Star, folded, reporter Tess Monaghan endures jobless months by putting in hours of rowing on the river and by putting her faith in the comfort of routine. When her rowing buddy "Rock" Paxton wonders about the change in his fiancee and hires Tess to follow Ava, Tess needs the money so she agrees. Eva is having noontime trysts with another lawyer, Michael Abramowitz, and when Abramowitz turns up dead, all fingers point right to Tess's friend.
After reading and enjoying Lippman's standalone hits such as I'd Know You Anywhere and What the Dead Know, reading the first book in her Tess Monaghan series was only natural. After reading Baltimore Blues, I think Lippman could probably find her way around Baltimore blindfolded, and she wrote of the city in a way that made it interesting and intriguing-- and without an over-dependence on street names which can pull me right out of a story.
Tess is a multi-faceted character, and not all of the facets are likable. She's bright, she's talented, she's capable, but when she lost her job as a reporter, it seems to have knocked the wind-- and the desire-- right out of her. If she can't have what she wants, she's willing to settle for whatever happens.
She has a strong cast of characters around her who truly care for her, and they've been watching her, wondering when in the world she's going to snap out of her funk. To their credit-- and Lippman's-- when they reach the point of no return, they tell Tess a few home truths, but it's done with love. Characterization like that can be tricky, but Lippman does it perfectly.
Good plot, good pacing, good setting, good characters? I now know that, whatever Lippman writes, it's Good!
When I started reading, I realized I had read this book years ago. However, I didn't remember most of it, including "who dunnit." The story itself wasn't bad and the ending was interesting. The reason I'm giving it three stars (I would have given it 3.5 if that was possible) is because Tess, the protagonist, was not particularly likeable.
Tess had been a reporter for one of the local newspapers but lost her job when the paper folded. I don't recall if the book stated how long it had been since the paper closed. Tess came across as someone with no ambition and not much in the way of "standards." She didn't appear to be diligently looking for other employment. Instead, she worked in her Aunt Kitty's bookstore (also lived above it) and occasionally did tasks for an uncle who was a government employee. Neither of these jobs seemed to satisfy her yet she didn't seem to take any steps to change her situation. She had an on-again/off-again relationship with Jonathan, a former colleague. Tess had no qualms about hopping into bed with him whenever he showed up at her place, never mind the fact that he had a fiance.
In spite of the fact that I found the central character unlikeable, I will read the next book in the series. Maybe she'll mature.
Until her paper, the BALTIMORE STAR, crashed and burned, Tess Monaghan was a damn good reporter who knew her hometown intimately--from historic Fort McHenry to the crumbling projects of Cherry Hill. Now gainfully unemployed at twenty-nine, she's willing to take any freelance job to pay the rent--including a bit of unorthodox snooping for her rowing buddy, Darryl "Rock" Paxton.
In a city where someone is murdered almost everyday, attorney Michael Abramowitz's death should be just another statistic. But the slain lawyer's notoriety--and his noontime trysts with Rock's fiancee--make the case front page news...and points to Rock as the likely murderer. But trying to prove her friend's innocence couls prove costly to Tess--and add her name to that infamous ever-growing list.
This book had you guessing to the end! Very well done and enjoyable!