11 April 2007

The Last Place, by Laura Lippman

William Morrow 2002. 341 pages.

Maureen and I heard about Laura Lippman recently on NPR. They were talking about her latest book, What the Dead Know. Our library has it but there are the usual dozens of prior holds on a new book, so I picked up a copy of The Last Place, an older book in the author's list of works.

This is part of a detective series, the detective's name is Tess Monaghan, a newspaper reporter turned private investigator. Tess lives in Baltimore, and this story takes place in and around that city.

This is the story of Tess's inquiry into a string of deaths that seem to be related to domestic violence. She enters into the investigation at the behest of a foundation to which one of her friends belongs. Quickly, many complications develop and it becomes obvious that she is investigating a series of murders, and they are likely committed by the same person.

Lippman uses a technique of interjecting sections from the point of view of the mysterious adversary. These are set in a sans-serif type to distinguish them from the rest of the text. I've seen similar techniques in other novels, with varying degrees of success. It works well in this book as a way to build suspense and give us sufficient insight into the criminal's motivation.

Dialogue is readable and believable in this book. Monaghan acquires an assistant named Carl, a retired turnpike guard who was closely involved in one of the murders, having found a victim's remains. Here's part of an exchange between Carl and Tess:

"Did you know Lucy Fancher before --" Tess stopped, groping for the right words.
He lifted his eyes from the box. "Before I found her head on the bridge?"
"North East isn't that small. Sometimes I think I might have seen her once or twice in town. But that's wishful thinking."
"Wishful thinking?"
"Wouldn't your rather know someone as a whole living, breathing person instead of just a head?"

The Last Place
is a good, entertaining read, and Tess Monaghan is a great fictional detective. We look forward to reading more Laura Lippman.


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