The Last Place, by Laura Lippman

One of the advantages of a faltering memory is that I can reread mysteries feeling just as much suspense as the first time around. This 2002 book starts with Lippman’s sleuth, Tess Monaghan, pulling a caper with her preppy terrorist friend.

Whitney isn’t really a terrorist, but she’s pretty scary. Combining a sense of entitlement with a willingness to kick butt in a good cause, she may be my favorite character in the Tess novels. Here, she and Tess are out to, er, discourage a pedophile who made the mistake of preying on Whitney’s underage cousin. They get a bit carried away, ending up with Tess, who hid Whitney’s involvement, in court-ordered therapy.

Penitent and grateful, Whitney recommends Tess’s services to a group pushing domestic violence legislation. The task is to investigate five unsolved homicides that appear to be the result of domestic violence, in the hope of showing that stronger legislation is needed. Unfortunately, and much to Tess’s dismay, one member of the group is wealthy Luisa O’Neal, with whom Tess tangled in an earlier book. Interspersed with Tess’s investigation are brief chapters giving us the thoughts of someone who is following Tess and appears to be obsessed with her.

As always, Lippman superbly manages the threads of the five homicides, Luisa O’Neal, and the predator following Tess. There are enough subtle reminders to enable the reader to keep the different characters straight, even as we, along with Tess, are led into a more and more complex maze.

As so often with mysteries—and an aspect I love—this story shows how the present has been molded by the past. Each character bears the fingerprints of his or her experiences. Another aspect I love is the chance to inhabit other lives; for me here it is the lives of watermen and women on the small, disappearing islands in the Chesapeake Bay.

But what I appreciate most about Lippman’s books are the endings. So many otherwise excellent books trail off or stop abruptly, as though the author got tired of writing. There is no deus ex machina here, no dangling threads, only the conclusions that the story’s characters and events make inevitable.

In a series such as this, we have the comfort of familiar characters such as Tess and Whitney along with the chance to see more deeply into them with each installment. Watching Tess joust with her therapist in this book made me see another side to her. It’s been four years since the last Tess Monaghan book. A new one, Hush Hush, comes out next month. Much as I enjoy Lippman’s standalone novels, I’m eager to delve into Tess’s new adventures.

What’s your favorite book by Laura Lippman?

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