Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review of The Sugar House by Laura Lippman (Orion, 2000)

A former newspaper reporter, Tess Monaghan is a private investigator in Baltimore. When her father asks her investigate the death in prison of a friend’s brother, she feels obliged to take the case. The man had been convicted of killing a young woman while high on glue. Unusually, the woman was a ‘Jane Doe’, so Tess’ first task is to try to identify her based on a smattering of unearthed clues. The trail leads to a bar called Domenick’s, that is less than friendly, and ‘The Sugar House’, an exclusive private clinic for eating disorders. As she digs further she starts to identify political connections and skulduggery, and soon her father is asking her to drop the case. Tess though is bloody-minded and tenacious, determined to unravel the mystery, but at what cost to her family?

The Sugar House is the fifth instalment of the Tess Monaghan series set in Baltimore. In this outing, Tess investigates what turns out to be a testing and dangerous case involving the death of an anonymous woman and her killer, organized crime, and politics. The mystery and its investigation are the strengths of the story, with Lippman weaving together a number of plot strands, with plenty of social and political intrigue. There’s also a good sense of place, especially with regards to the social geography of the Baltimore area, and strong characterisation. Where the story suffers a little is with respect to the pacing and telling. The book, in many ways, is as much about Tess’s life and friendships, as it is about solving a mystery, and the first sixty pages is more like a soap opera than a crime fiction tale. It is only once Tess starts to investigate the crime that the book takes on more shape. Once it does find its centre, it’s an engaging and entertaining read.

No comments: