Friday, May 1, 2009

Baltimore Blues

Laura Lippman

Baltimore Blues is Laura Lippman's first novel, originally published in mass market paperback in 1997. I guess that the publisher was unsure about the staying power of a crime novel set in the dowdy city of Baltimore, Maryland. The edition that I read is a hardback reprint from 2007. To say that this doesn't often happen in an understatement.

Tess Monaghan, Lippman's Irish Jewish Baltimore native female detective main character, is introduced in this novel. She is already a well rounded character with a family, a history, habits and the ability to engage the reader in her fictional life. Monaghan as a character, and Lippman as an author seem to rise fully formed, like Venus rising from the sea on a shell.

It was a pleasure for me, as an affectionado of all things Lippman, to finally read this first novel and see where Crow, the young musician boyfriend, Kitty the sexy maiden aunt, Tyner the wheelchair bound lawyer, Whitney, the wealthy college roommate and lifelong BFF and many of the other characters, that float in and out of the Tess Monaghan books, came from. I started reading the series in hardback before the reprints of the original paperbacks came out. If you are new to Laura Lippman you might do well to start at the beginning, or maybe not. Working backwards in time to this first novel was a novel experience.

I have a theory about how a mystery novel should be constructed. The author must leave clues scattered throughout the book that the reader will remember as the mystery is solved. Readers are supposed to have an aha moment when the killer is revealed. "Why didn't I see that in chapter four?" you are supposed to ask. Lippman's books don't follow my theory. Nothing is ever neat. In fact there is likely to be more than one killer, as there is likely to be more than one victim. Nothing is neat or orderly. Lippman's books are more like real life. Some obscure character from chapter four that isn't mentioned for pages and pages might show up, very angry, with a gun during the denouement. Yet it always works. I guess that's why "crime novel" and not "mystery story" is the best description of Lippman's work.

Some time I'll tell you about my science fiction theory. Authors often seem to ignore it, too.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your ah-ha theory. I love a good Mystery book. Have read a few. Gorky park comes to mind. A good writer will be able to hold the reads thoughts in a question state.(could it be.. maybe not... oh yeh.. then the AH-HA never thought of that!)


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