Tough, funny, smart, and achingly vulnerable, Tess Monaghan – the main character in a series of mystery novels by Laura Lippman – is one of the most wonderfully real women in modern fiction. Tess, a Baltimore private eye, is the kind of woman who always wants to do the right thing but is often led astray by her own emotions (usually anger or an almost pathological commitment to her own ethics code).
In Lippman’s latest, No Good Deeds, Tess’s troubles start when her sweet boyfriend, Crow, takes in a young street kid, Lloyd, who is without a home or any visible means of survival, other than shaking people down for money.
Lloyd tries unsuccessfully to rob Tess and Crow then flees. A ticked-off Tess tracks Lloyd down, both to confront him about the robbery and to quiz him about the recent death of an up-and-coming federal prosecutor, which she believes he knows something about. Before you know it, federal agents are badgering Tess for information on Lloyd who, fearing for his life, has left town with Crow.
Lippman’s plots are always twisty and complicated, but never absurdly so. That’s because she always keeps the action grounded with her believable characters. That includes not only Tess, but also Crow, Tess’s blue-blood buddy Whitney Talbot, and the assorted others who come into her orbit. Crow in particular gets a lot of play this time around. Usually relegated to the sidelines, he’s bumped up to a main character in No Good Deeds, and more layers are added to his nice guy persona.
In fact, No Good Deeds is even better than Lippman’s past Monaghan novels because, this time around, she gives everyone three dimensions, even her villains. That brings depth and poignancy to
the author’s work and makes for an even more absorbing story.
True, the Monaghan books aren’t as good as Lippman’s stand-alone efforts, the excellent Every Secret Thing and To the Power of Three. But they have their own merits. Chief among those is the ever-fascinating Tess, who gets more interesting with every novel. I can’t wait to see what she does next.