Tess Monaghan is at her wits’ end. She loves her daughter, but can barely keep up with the busy schedule of being a working mom, not to mention the extra bills that are coming her way. As a result, she takes a case she wouldn’t normally be interested in: A controversial woman, Melisandre, with a past has returned home to reunite with her estranged family, and Tess has been asked by her friend and mentor Tyner to evaluate her security. As Tess digs deeper into Melisandre’s past, she discovers things that intrigue and disturb her and begins to wonder about the complexities of motherhood.
Let’s start with this: If you haven’t read a Tess Monaghan novel, then Hush Hush probably isn’t the place to start. This is a complex series, full of interweaving characters and plots. Can this novel stand alone? Yes, probably. You can get the story, be horrified by Melisandre’s antics, wonder about the truth behind the central plot, and all in all enjoy the book. And if that niggling feeling that you’re actually missing a lot of the story doesn’t bother you, than you should do that. But as a person who enjoys the richness of characters built over multiple books, who likes seeing how Tess is coping with motherhood after years of waffling commitment to Crow, who has hungered for a another installment in this series, forced to be content with tantalizing glimpses of Tess in Monaghan’s other novels, I’d say that this book needs to be appreciated as part of the larger series it has a home within.
Clearly, I’m a huge Tess Monaghan (and Laura Lippman) fan. So now the question becomes: Was Hush Hush worth the wait? My answer is definitely a yes. It’s never a doubt that Lippman is going to do a great job with her characters, taking them in fresh and unexpected directions, and of course she does that in this novel. But the real fascination of this book is in Melisandre; in her thoughts, actions, and the truth behind what she did all those years ago.
Through Melisandre, Lippman turns Hush Hush into a psychological novel. I hesitate to call it a thriller, because the Tess novels have always had a laid back vibe, one that this book shares. That’s a good thing; it allows Lippman to take her time unfolding Tess’s discoveries, while also focusing on secondary characters and storylines. But the narrative always comes back to this mysterious woman. What hold does she have over Tyner? What is she really doing back in Baltimore?
If you’ve been a fan of Tess Monaghan’s for as long as I have, don’t hesitate to pick up Hush Hush; it will, as always, leave you clamoring for more, but Lippman’s written a great novel here. It’s an entertaining, suspenseful read that leaves thought-provoking questions in its wake. If your book club doesn’t mind missing out on some character development, the juxtaposition between Tess and Melisandre would make for a great and poignant discussion on motherhood.