Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Butchers Hill - Laura Lippman

Butchers Hill is the third book in the Tess Monaghan series. Tess has moved into her own "shop" and acquired two clients: Luther and Jackie. Luther is paying Tess to find a group of teenagers who were friends with the boy Luther was convicted of shooting. Jackie wants Tess to help her find the daughter she gave up for adoption thirteen years ago. On the surface, both cases appear to be pretty straight forward. O.k., Luther wanting to find the friends of the boy he shot is kind of weird, but all in all, they are both cases involving a simple job of finding people. However, that wouldn't make for much of a crime fiction novel, now would it?

Both cases turn out to be far more complex: Jackie's case starts to hit very close to home for Tess, and Luther's case turns deadly. Both cases examine the ugliness of the child welfare system and the inequality that only harms the children trapped there.

I listened to Butchers Hill on audio book, and the reader was Deborah Hazlett. I enjoy Deborah's readings, and she did a very nice job with Tess. Her ability to express a character's emotion is a great asset with a book such as this one.

Tess is a fun character and I have enjoyed the books I've read with her. Her family is dysfunctional (I can definitely empathize with the grandmother situation); she has her quirks and imperfections; and her humor adds a lot to the novels.

The plot of Butchers Hill deals with some "issues" in the "system" that really aren't new issues, but rather ones no one seems to know how - or want - to fix. I found myself admiring the way that Lippman would present arguments from each side of a racial issue. She definitely set the scene for such issues by placing Tess (a white, female, Jew) smack in the middle of a predominantly African-American neighborhood. In each side you can see holes in the logic, but at the same time, you can understand where both of the arguments are coming from. She did a nice job with that. It's not an easy area to write about without risking offending someone.

Because of the content of the plot, it is a slower moving book. There really is no action to speed up the tempo. I wouldn't say the book was predictable, at least for me it wasn't. But there were a few components of the plot that seemed to come out of the blue and also a few that were a tad bit on the cliche side. I can't elaborate too much more without including spoilers in my review, though.

As with Charm City, I enjoyed Butchers Hill. There wasn't anything about it that completely knocked me off my feet, but it was a fun book and a great one for the car rides to work. I'll definitely read more in the Tess Monaghan series.


Corey Wilde October 22, 2008 at 8:31 PM  

Interesting. I have one of Lippman's books in the TBR, mostly because of all the hoopla and awards surrounding her books. None of the jacket blurbs tugged at me very hard, so the book has been in TBR for a while. On a scale of characters running from fluff (Stephanie Plum) to hard-as-diamonds (Sam Spade), where would you put Tess?

Jen October 22, 2008 at 8:40 PM  

You know, Corey, I know these books won a number of awards, but again, this is a book that wouldn't have been my first choice for an award. On the scale, she's most definitely closer to Stephanie Plum, but not to that extent. I don't think she's as hard as say Ellie Hatcher or Sunny Randall, though. Does that help?

Corey Wilde October 22, 2008 at 10:26 PM  

Yes, thanks, that does help. Shame how I have to pigeon-hole characters, isn't it?

Debbie October 27, 2008 at 8:16 PM  

I have read the frist 3 of Lippman's books. I heard an interview she did on NPR once and I love how she loves Baltimore. I was just thinkiing of beginning the 4th in this series. Like you, I don't LOVE them, but I really like them.

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