This is Laura Lippman’s 21st novel, and the 11th in the Tess Monaghan series. Tess is a former reporter and now private investigator in her late thirties, and she is called in by her mentor and close friend, attorney Tyner Gray, to assess the security needs of one of his clients, Melisandre Harris Dawes, one of the more complex women one could ever meet. Roberto (“Sandy”) Sanchez, the Cuban-born retired Baltimore homicide cop, introduced to readers in the author’s standalone novel “After I’m Gone,”” is now working for Tess, and joins her on this assignment, for which she is being handsomely paid.
Melisandre, a very beautiful and wealthy woman and herself an attorney, had stood trial for the murder of her 2-month-old daughter, and after a mistrial had been declared, at the second trial, before a judge and no jury, was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity. She then left the country, her husband and her two surviving daughters, but after a decade has returned to Baltimore, hoping to regain custody of her girls, despite the opposition of her ex-husband, now remarried and with a young son, and has hired a filmmaker to make a documentary about her, her past, and the hoped-for reunion with her daughters, now 15 and 17 years old. Interspersed throughout are portions of transcripts of the interviews conducted.
In a scenario similar to the case of Andrea Yates, the notorious Texas woman who had drowned all five of her children, Melisandre had left her baby locked in her car in the summer heat, while she sat at the nearby seashore.
Tess and Melisandre have some things in common: They are, or were, challenged by the stress of raising small children: At one point Tess says “I can’t help thinking what a thin line separates good parents from bad parents. . . I worry that I’m screwing up, every day.” The other thing in common is that they are suddenly both recipients of “cryptic, vaguely sinister notes,” though each is completely unrelated to the ones received by the other.
In this novel, Tess and her live-in boyfriend, Crow, who runs a bar with live music, have a three-year-old daughter, Carla Scout. (Unusually, many of the characters are referred to by their first two, or all three, names throughout.)
I must admit that at times I found myself turning back to pages already read to try to make clearer certain plot points or characters, but nonetheless this is a fascinating, layered and complex plot, and the novel is recommended....Continua