Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Butchers Hill

A Tess Monaghan Novel
Laura Lippman

I have become a Laura Lippman addict. I first heard Laura Lippman being interviewed on the Marc Steiner Show on what was then Baltimore's WJHU radio station, at John's Hopkins University. (It's called WYPR now and is no longer owned by the University) I found her to be engaging and was motivated to go read the new novel she was hawking and then every Laura Lippman book I could lay my hands on ever since.

Butchers Hill is an early Lippman novel that was published in paperback only, in 1998. It has recently been released in hard cover, reversing the usual procedure. One might expect an early attempt to be less well written, more tentative, not as good as an author's later work, especially if that early book was a paperback only potboiler. This is not the case. The character of Tess Monaghan is fully rounded already, and easily recognizable. The plot has twists and turns of great complexity, yet complete, after the fact, logic. Other characters are believable. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Baltimore is a city that I know mostly from the local TV news. I live in another world, across the Chesapeake Bay from there. But I love to see places and even people from that news appearing in print. If there is a writer who lives and sets novels in your area you may be able to enjoy the same experience. Of course, I also enjoy reading the late Tony Hillerman's New Mexico based novels for their setting, even though my exposure to New Mexico was only a two week vacation almost twenty years ago. Go figure.

You will never in a million years guess who done it, which makes this a real mystery and not just a "crime novel." In fact, it's not at all clear what the real crime that is being solved is until the denouement, but not in a bad plot kind of way.

Since starting to write fiction, with her Tess Monaghan mysteries, Laura Lippman has written novels that are not in the mystery genre. She has shown that she can develop complex characters and hold a reader's interest without having the plot device of a detective with a crime to solve. Yet, her Tess stories, even this early one, already stand up as complete novels on their own.

1 comment:

  1. I recently read Butcher's Hill for the first time and loved it; I'm working my way through all the Tess mysteries. I used to live near Baltimore, and enjoy the difference between my picture of it, LL's, and Anne Tyler's.


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