Title: In a Strange City
Author: Laura Lippman
Release Date: October 1, 2002
Publisher: Avon (Print) / Recorded Books (Audio)
Genre: Crime Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
In the sixth Tess Monaghan novel, Tess has settled down nicely with her boyfriend, Crow. Business is slow, but not slow enough for Tess to accept a strange client that has a bizarre request for her. There is a hallowed tradition in Baltimore: each year, a mysterious figure visits Edgar Allan Poe’s gravesite on the author’s birthday and leaves him three roses and a bottle of cognac. Tess’s client claims that this man stole something from him and asks her to discover the visitor’s identity. Tess declines, but out of curiosity, goes to Poe’s gravesite on the night of his birthday and is shocked when a murder takes place in front of her. Though Tess’s sense of self-preservation tells her to stay a long way away from the case, she can’t help but investigate and try to figure out what is really going on.
The plot of In a Strange City sounds complicated because it is, very much so. Not so difficult that it’s hard to follow, but there is a lot going on, with many subplots and characters that come together to help (or hinder) Tess in solving the mystery. In terms of sheer complexity, this might be the most ambitious Tess Monaghan novel yet. Unlike most previous novels, it doesn’t focus on Tess’s PI business and instead has one central mystery running through the book. While it creates a unifying feel, fans of Tess’ might lament the lack of cases to juggle in this novel.
Baltimore is almost always its own character in the Tess Monaghan novels, but it is central to In a Strange City. Lippman makes it clear from beginning to end that this story could not have taken place in any other city in the world – it is about Baltimore. I love the sense of place that she creates, but I also enjoyed that the novel centered on Poe. It was interesting to delve into his works, his history to figure out aspects of the mystery; it gave the book an entirely different feel from previous novels in the series.
I listened to In a Strange City on audio, and it is unabridged and runs almost 11 hours. The narrator is Barbara Rosenblat, and she does a great job really being the voice of Tess. Her male voices, especially for Crow, leave something to be desired, but overall, I enjoy Rosenblat as a narrator.
In a Strange City is a great addition to the Tess Monaghan series. Though Tess is very well-established by now, Lippman still manages to include little tidbits about her in order to develop the character further. The plot of the book is fast-paced and readers will race through it to see if Tess can unearth the identity of the visitor before it’s too late. New readers should definitely start at the beginning of the series, but fans shouldn’t hesitate to pick this installment up.