Laura Lippman is a writer I have heard about for years but had yet to catch up with her books. Last week, I read Baltimore Blues, thoroughly enjoyed it, and wondered what took me so long to get to it?
This 1997 mystery
was the first in Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series. We meet Tess, a
reporter without a newspaper after the daily she worked for went out of
business – like so many papers, big and small.
Tess is making
ends meet with two part-time jobs, one for her uncle, the head of an
obscure government department who needs reports and press releases
written, and another for her aunt who runs an eclectic bookstore. Tess
lives in an apartment above the bookstore.
In the early morning
hours, she goes down to the Patapsco River and gives herself a workout
rowing a shell. One morning on the river she meets Darryl Paxton, a
competitive rower and an old friend everyone calls Rock. After a
friendly race back to the boathouse, Rock confides in Tess, telling her
that he believes his girlfriend, Ava, is in trouble and that is why she
seems to be drifting away from him. He offers to pay Tess to follow Ava
and find out what is going on.
For a week, Tess follows Ava
every time the woman comes out of the office building where she works
for a prestigious law firm. Ava has some peculiar interests, like
shoplifting from boutiques in an upscale mall, and going to a hotel
during her lunch break. One day, Tess literally bumps into Ava’s boss in
the lobby of the hotel, and that makes too big a coincidence for Tess.
Instead of reporting her findings to Rock, she confronts Ava herself,
setting off a chain of events that land Rock in jail for murdering the
Rock’s defense attorney, who is also his friend and
rowing coach, hires Tess to investigate the murder, looking for leads
that will exonerate Rock.
Tess does her job, and more.
Forgetting that she is employed to follow the defense lawyer’s
instructions and gather facts, and falling back into her habit of trying
to break a story, she endangers Rock’s case and puts herself in the
crosshairs of the real murderer.
Lippman’s story is a quick read
with a good many twists and turns, action, suspense, and observations
about the city of Baltimore and its diverse population and
There is a lot to like in this book, including a
few literary references, like brief mentions of three poems within a few
pages of each other: Houseman’s “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff” and
Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats” and Milton’s “When I Consider How My
Light Is Spent.”