First line: "Transcript of interview with CAROLYN SANDERS, March 3."
Hush Hush marks Laura Lippman's return to her beloved Baltimore private eye, Tess Monaghan. And boy what a return this is.
Now juggling a rambunctious toddler, a household that includes three dogs, and her investigative career, Tess is pulled somewhat begrudgingly into a security consulting job. Tyner's client, Melisandre Dawes, stood trial twelve years ago for killing her infant daughter but was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. After her release from the medical facility she was sent to for treatment, she left the country, her ex-husband and her two other daughters. Now she's returned in hopes of reuniting with the children she abandoned and making a documentary about herself.
Not everyone is happy about her return--she's been receiving threatening notes--so Tyner wants Tess and her partner Sandy Sanchez to evaluate the security of Melisandre's new apartment. Agreeing partly for the money and partly for her family ties to Tyner--he's married to her aunt--Tess agrees to go over the situation but wants to make it perfectly clear that they are having no part of Melisandre's movie and they are not security consultants by trade.
Tess wants to meet with Tyner and Melisandre then wash her hands of the whole deal, but a series of events leading up to new murder, in which Melisandre is the prime suspect, continue to pull Tess and Sandy back into the thick of a mad woman's life of drama.
While the issues dealing with child murder are often hot buttons for readers, Lippman treats this case with careful reverence. Tess's constant reflection on her own struggles as a mother tie her uncomfortably to this woman she simply cannot understand. She considers her actions but decides it's safer to just not think about it: "Of course it was crazy, but what did crazy mean?" In addition, Lippman has included a personal stalker for Tess. Someone is leaving her notes. Notes that start out relatively harmless but progress to judging her parenting skills, which in turn make Tess question her fitness as a mother. She contrasts her disorganized, exhausted skills to Crow's seemingly effortless approach. While most mother's don't have an anonymous stalker, they can likely empathize with Tess, whether receiving "advice" or flat out criticism in their own experiences. Putting on a strong mask in front of those people is much easier than controlling the self-doubt that permeates thoughts and fears.
While it is only a few sentences, Sandy's reaction to Melisandre's crime is also powerful. A former police detective he says, "it's the kind of thing--Guys who could make jokes about anything, they didn't joke about that. Cases like that, they can really screw you up." Horrendous crimes like the one Melisandre Dawes commits can affect so many people on different levels, and Lippman looks at several of those levels in this novel.
Equally engaging are the two daughters left behind by Melisandre. Alanna and Ruby weren't much more than toddlers when their mother murdered their baby sister. Now teenagers, each has dealt with their multiple losses in different ways. Additional secrets seep out as the book progresses, but both girls are sympathetic characters and trying to envision their lives is an emotional element of the story.
Lippman is exceptional with complex, gripping characters who illicit a host of strong responses from readers: compassion, revulsion, adoration, empathy. Stimulating internal dialogue for the audience makes a rewarding reading experience. And Lippman delivers more than just stellar characters.
The plot of the novel is authentic and riveting. The twists and suspense make for a thrilling read that's still grounded in reality. It's a bit of a thief, though. Readers are likely to find hours missing unexplainably once they sit down with this books. Tess Monaghan is a Baltimore fixture, but this novel could be set almost anywhere given the storyline. Horror stories about filicide aren't relegated to a geographic area and Lippman does a exemplary job of touching her reader, regardless of age or gender or race or any other categorizing factor--this is a human story.
Whether you're a long time Tess Monaghan fan or you've never read the series before, Hush Hush can be read and enjoyed by any number of kinds of readers and on many different levels. It's books like Hush Hush that remind us all of our commonalities and human connections.
Tess Monaghan is back, and that's a very good thing.
Hush Hush is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062369758) from William Morrow. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9780062372352), narrated by Jan Maxwell, from Harper Audio.
Check out the Tess is Back microsite where you can listen to excerpts, see Baltimore locales from the series, learn about the characters and best of all, enter to win digital audio or ebook prizes from the series.
Hopefully you already know you can find Laura Lippman on Facebook and Twitter, but if not, connect with her there or her website.
My review today kicks off the TLC book tour for Hush Hush. Check out the schedule of blogs and see what others have to say about the book.
Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.