Review: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

hush hush by laura lippmanFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook
Genre: mystery, suspense
Series: Tess Monaghan #12
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Date Released: February 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The award-winning New York Times bestselling author of After I’m Gone, The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know brings back private detective Tess Monaghan, introduced in the classic Baltimore Blues, in an absorbing mystery that plunges the new parent into a disturbing case involving murder and a manipulative mother.

On a searing August day, Melisandre Harris Dawes committed the unthinkable: she left her two-month-old daughter locked in a car while she sat nearby on the shores of the Patapsco River. Melisandre was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity, although there was much skepticism about her mental state. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving children, determined to start over.

But now Melisandre has returned Baltimore to meet with her estranged teenage daughters and wants to film the reunion for a documentary. The problem is, she relinquished custody and her ex, now remarried, isn’t sure he approves.

Now that’s she’s a mother herself–short on time, patience–Tess Monaghan wants nothing to do with a woman crazy enough to have killed her own child. But her mentor and close friend Tyner Gray, Melisandre’s lawyer, has asked Tess and her new partner, retired Baltimore P.D. homicide detective Sandy Sanchez, to assess Melisandre’s security needs.

As a former reporter and private investigator, Tess tries to understand why other people break the rules and the law. Yet the imperious Melisandre is something far different from anyone she’s encountered. A decade ago, a judge ruled that Melisandre was beyond rational thought. But was she? Tess tries to ignore the discomfort she feels around the confident, manipulative Melisandre. But that gets tricky after Melisandre becomes a prime suspect in a murder.

Yet as her suspicions deepen, Tess realizes that just as she’s been scrutinizing Melisandre, a judgmental stalker has been watching her every move as well. . . .

My Review:

This is a gripping psychological thriller of a story about the past catching up with the present. Also that those who do not learn from history are doomed, or perhaps condemned, to repeat it. Along with a dose of the one about all happy families being alike, but every unhappy family is miserable in its own unique way.

For the Dawes family, that unhappiness is uniquely awful. Or at least there are a minority of families that face their particular brand of unhappiness, and thank goodness for that.

Melisandre Dawes’ narcissism is not the unusual bit. Unfortunately, there are probably lots of families where someone is that totally self-absorbed. As far as Melisandre is concerned, the world, no, the universe revolves around her. And it’s actually true for her, because she makes it so, either by using her startling beauty, her mercurial temper, or her family wealth.

But her 2-month-old baby couldn’t be swayed by any of those things. Isadora’s colic never ended. And Melisandre, admittedly, had a history of postpartum depression. So when she drove her baby to the boathouse and left her in the car to bake, Melisandre was found not guilty using an insanity plea. And possibly a lot of money, but no one ever proved it.

It’s 12 years later and double-jeopardy applies, so Melisandre has come back to the U.S., back to Baltimore, and is making a “documentary” film about women who kill their own children as a way of getting back into the lives of the two daughters she left behind. But now Alanna is 17 and Ruby is 15 and they have spent most of their lives wondering if their mother intended to kill them too.

The girls don’t seem interested in a reunion.

Tess and her partner Sandy become involved when they are hired as security consultants for Melisandre. It’s not what they do, but it turns out that a reunion with her daughters is not the only idea up her well-tailored sleeve. Tess’ former rowing trainer, Tyner, is a lawyer who regularly hires Tess to do investigative work for him. Tyner is also married to Tess’ aunt Kitty.

Melisandre assumes that she can get Tyner back along with her daughters. They used to be together, once upon a time. She broke it off because, at the time, he didn’t want marriage or children. With Kitty, he’s only changes his mind about the marriage part, but Melisandre is sure she can get him back and on board with any new plans she might have.

She claims to want him back, but whether that’s really true or she’s just looking for more people to use is a bit hard to judge. Melisandre is an impossible person to like, so it is a good thing she isn’t the protagonist. Tess, definitely on that other hand, is a much more likeable person to follow.

The crime that Melisandre committed 12 years ago, her possible motivations and her possible pathology, are fascinating.

But things take a strange turn in the present, as someone is stalking Melisandre with creepy threatening notes, and someone poisons her trainer in an attempt to get to her.

Someone is also stalking Tess, but whatever it is about, it can’t be the same person. Or can it?

In her complete self-absorption, Melisandre doesn’t understand the consequences of her own actions. Her ex-husband is killed after meeting with her, and she is the first, best suspect. After all, she’s killed before. Then she is confronted with the possibility that either or both of her daughters may have followed in mommy’s footsteps.

Or have they?

baltimore blues new cover by laura lippmanEscape Rating A-: I’ve read the first book in this series, Baltimore Blues (reviewed here) and now the last one. I got so wrapped up in Hush, Hush that I carried it around with me for a day, squeezing in moments where I could read a few more pages.

Now that I’ve seen where Tess ends up, I have to read the books in between. While this book is definitely accessible for people who have not read the rest of Tess’ series, I enjoyed her journey so much that I want to find out how she got to where she is now.

Also, the cases she gets involved in are absolutely fascinating.

During the first half of Hush, Hush it felt like there was a shoe waiting to be dropped. And once it dropped, it thudded and reverberated everywhere.

Melisandre is a woman we love to hate. It’s not just that she uses people, it’s that she doesn’t really see the people she uses as people. She’s the only real person in her world. And she’s a bitch. She compares herself to the evil interpretation of Malificent and thinks that Malificent’s towering evil ambition is “magnificent”.

I think it is also impossible, both for the reader and for the involved characters, not to wonder about what happened when she killed her baby. Was she insane? If so, how is she sane now? Or did she just use her money and her husband’s influence to buy herself a not guilty verdict. Others who have gone that route at least stay in psychiatric hospitals, but Melisandre is completely free.

It’s not really a surprise that someone is stalking her and wants her dead, it’s only a surprise that it hasn’t happened before.

That Tess is also receiving stalking notes gives them something in common, but at the same time, what is happening to Tess feels real and frightening, where the same event in Melisandre’s life feels like a stunt.

Because it is. But the death of her ex-husband is not a stunt, although Melisandre certainly turns it into one – because that’s how she treats everything.

This is a story where there are no innocents. Everyone who even gets near Melisandre’s case ends up guilty of something. Only little Isadora was immune. Melisandre tarnished everything she touched, and either never realized it or never gave a damn because it wasn’t really about her.

Waiting to see Melisandre finally get her just desserts was suspenseful, and in the end, utterly marvelous.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

baltimore blues new cover by laura lippmanFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, large print hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Tess Monaghan, #1
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: October 13, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

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.

My Review:

Even though the two books were written a decade apart, I found myself comparing Baltimore Blues, the first book in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series, to One for the Money, the introduction of Stephanie Plum.

In both books, we have a relatively young woman who is currently down her luck – her career has stalled and died, and she is left putting the rent money together through freelancing, odd jobs, and falling back on the refuge of her family. Both women are firmly in the middle to lower middle class. Neither expects or even dreams of rescue by billionaire.

Both families have some less than savory dealings in their immediate history. Vinnie’s Bail Bonds seems to operate at the edge of legality, and Tess’ uncle is a time-server in the Baltimore City Government because he wasn’t quite bad enough to indict.

And Stephanie works for Vinnie, while Tess works for her uncle. In both cases, the jobs are charity. No one really believes that Stephanie will become a bail bond agent, and Tess’ uncle is paying her out of his own pocket so that he has an excuse to give her money and someone to keep him company in his empty office a couple of hours a week.

Both women get thrown into private investigating through a back door. Stephanie really does become a bail bonds agent, no matter how crazy or accident prone. One of Tess’ friends is sure that her failed career as a newspaper reporter give her all the tools she will need to investigate whether his girlfriend is cheating on him or up to a different kind of no good.

Of course, Tess’ involvement makes things worse. She does find proof that Rock’s fiance is cheating on him – also that she is a shoplifter. But Tess discovers that she can’t do the really hard part of being a P.I. – she can’t bear to give her friend the bad news. So she tries to blackmail the girlfriend into a confession.

Tess has only made things worse. Because the girlfriend will do anything to get to Rock’s bank account, including lie. Let’s face it, she already cheats and steals, so lying is all that’s left. Instead of having an affair with her boss, what she tells the poor sap is that her boss threatened her job if she didn’t screw him.

If only any of this had actually been about sex, it would have been a LOT easier for Tess to sort out.

The boss is found dead, and Tess’ friend is the only suspect. His lawyer hires Tess to help her friend find a way out of the mess that Tess has gotten him into.

Instead, it takes a long time and the following of a lot of red herrings for Tess to zero in on who and what got the lawyer killed. And what connects the trail of bodies that turn up in his wake.

Escape Rating B+: While I compared Tess to Stephanie at the beginning of the review. I’ll say now that I like Tess better, at least in her first outing. While there isn’t as much of the zany madcap in Tess, her adventures turn out to be less hilarious and more grounded in a universe closer to reality.

Admittedly, a reality where your friends end up murdered and being murder suspects in the same case.

Tess is in a life that has been on hold since she was laid off in a newspaper consolidation. This is something that feels real, both in that the newspaper industry is shrinking at an astonishing rate, and that she can’t find something she loves anywhere near as much as she loved being a reporter. She can’t move on.

Her love life, so far, also has one of those familiar aspects to it as well. Tess can’t get past her relationship with Jonathan, one of the star reporters at the surviving newspaper. She hasn’t found anyone she wants more, so she lets him stop by for a booty call whenever he feels like it, in spite of his having a fiancée somewhere in the suburbs. After the death of her newspaper career, Tess just doesn’t think enough of herself to boot Jonathan out of her life. Until circumstances force a final decision.

Tess does solve the case. Not by being stupid and lucky, the way that Stephanie often is, but by being persistent and dogged and not letting go. Also by using every resource available to her in her own experience, her friends and colleagues, and when necessary, her family.

So Baltimore Blues is the portrait of a young investigator in a blue-collar city who falls into this new gig by accident and does get her friend cleared of all charges. Sometimes by doing the right thing, and sometimes by doing the wrong thing the right way. Tess is worth following.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.