Tess Monaghan

Created by Laura Lippman

“That’s what I do, I write novels about women…”
— Lippman in 2014 interview

Hot shot Baltimore reporter TESS MONAGHAN unexpectedly finds herself out of work, when her paper The Baltimore Star, keels over and dies. Suddenly unemployed, Tess will take almost anything to pay the rent, including acting as a private eye, if that’s what it takes. Evidently, that is what it takes, since by the time of her third novel-length adventure, she’s become an official licensed private eye, complete with an office in a not-so-nice address in Baltimore.

Tess is a great character, a tough-minded but human investigator; determined to live life on her own terms. And thanks to her passion for rowing, she’s not someone who’s easy to push around. The series has garnered some very good press, and a loyal fan base. The Baltimore setting adds a special flavor, not to mention enough murder to keep things hopping, and the dialogue just crackles. Recommended. Highly.

But it’s not just that the books are good — it’s that Lippman has never backed away from a challenge, slyly pushing the envelope. She may, in fact, be one of the ballsiest P.I. writers around. “The Girl in the Green Raincoat” is a case in point. First serialized in The New York Times Magazine in 2008-09, the novella had Tess bravely going where few P.I. writers have gone before — into childbirth.

Tess has always been, at least for me, the weird, messed up kid sister I never had. Or maybe the girl next door that never lived next door, but should have. Loyal to a fault, opinionated, funny, clumsy and alternately endearing and infuriating, both cocky and insecure, honourable and sly, high-minded idealist and teller of fart jokes,  it seems almost inevitable that eventually she’d end up unexpectedly pregnant, despite all the precautions.

Whether the birth of a child meant Tess would be hanging up her gumshoes for good seemed a good question at the time, but the possibilities were certainly intriguing. You big tough, steely-eyed gents want gritty realism? Forget back alleys, femmes fatale and automatic weapons — try to take on talk of diaphrams, diapers and daycare.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat was subsequently published as a novel a few years later, and then Tess seemed to disappear, as her creator focussed on her standalones.

But then came the awesome After I’m Gone (2014), another standalone. But the novel also brought back Crow and Tess (and their daughter, Carla Scout) in a few small cameos. Even more importanlty, though, the novel introduced “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore murder police earning a few extra bucks, working cold cases for the overworked police department.

Which set the stage for 2015’s Hush Hush, the first full-length Tess novel since Another Thing to Fall (2008) and the events of The Girl in the Green Raincoat. Hush Hush finds Tess, Crow and Carla Scout more or less settled in, and Tess has hired the soft-spoken, thorough Sandy to be her partner.

It’s a great team-up; a real sweet-and-sour deal. Sandy may hold “people in even lower esteem than Tess,” but his calm, taciturn ways work well against those of the more mercurial and impulsive Tess, reeling with the added responsibilities of motherhood. It all bodes well for what I hope will continue to be one of the great detective series; a bold run that has so far both honoured and expanded the genre, refusing to go gently into the complacency that has sunk so many of Lippman’s contemporaries.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A former feature writer for the The Baltimore Sun, Lippman has won a few awards — the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus and the Nero Wolfe — and she cheerfully admits she “may have even deserved one or two of them, but probably not.” Just to hedge her bets, she’s also taken up a lucrative sideline lately: writing standalones (Every Secret Thing, To the Power of Three, After I’m Gone and What the Dead Know) that are, if anything, even fiercer than the Tess books, focussing even more sharply on so-called “women’s issues” — a conscious reaction to the male-dominated fiction that fellow writers who came along about the same time, such as George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, were doing. The author lives and works in Baltimore and New Orleans, with her husband, David Simon, creator of TV’s The Wire, Homicide: A Life on the Streets and Treme. As Lippman herself explains, she wanted to be hard-boiled but, to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, she just wasn’t drawn that way.

NOVELS

SHORT STORIES & NOVELLAS

COLLECTIONS

  • Hardly Knew Her (2008) Buy this book Kindle it!
    A rock-solid collection from Tess’ creator, featuring a couple of Tess stories, an “exclusive interview” of Tess by Lippman, and a hefty selection of some of the most dark, twisted and imaginative crime short stories being written today. Today Baltimore, tomorrow the world.

ALSO OF INTEREST

  • My Life as a Villainess (2020) | Buy this book Buy the audio | Kindle it!
    In this collection of essays, Lippman proves it’s ALL personal. And personable, as she digs deep into her life and times, offering fresh, sharp, always candid and often amusing takes on everything from high school trauma and her adventures as a young journalist, to being a bestselling novelist and motherhood. This is the real stuff, right here.

RELATED LINKS

  • The Last Place
    The Thrilling Detective Review by James R. Winter
  • The Accidental Crime Novelist
    Lippman spills the beans on writing, journalism, her husband, crime fiction, Baltimore and the problem with dead women. (March 2019, topic.com)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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