"Hush Hush" (William Morrow), by Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman's novels about Baltimore private investigator Tess Monaghan have never followed the predictable mode. Instead, the series about this sometimes cranky, perceptive young woman has afforded Lippman a way of looking at what motivates people and how each person's actions touch us in some way.
Lippman recently has been producing critically acclaimed stand-alone novels. But "Hush Hush" marks a most welcome return to Tess following a three-year absence, proving the novelist's capacity for involving storytelling knows no limits.
Parenthood — specifically motherhood, but also fatherhood — imbues the emotional plot of "Hush Hush" and makes this one of Lippman's finest novels. Parents who are calm, concerned and cheerful — as well as frustrated, fixated and furious — show that child rearing is fraught with land mines.
Tess and her new partner, former cop Sandy Sanchez ("After I'm Gone"), are hired to assess the security of wealthy Melisandre Harris Dawes, newly returned to Baltimore. Melisandre knows that in Baltimore she still is vilified because 12 years ago she stood trial for killing her infant daughter, who was left in a hot car to die.
A former lawyer, Melisandre claimed she suffered from postpartum psychosis and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Now Melisandre, back from living abroad, wants to reconnect with her two older daughters, now teenagers living with her ex-husband who is remarried with a 6-month-old son. Melisandre also has brought a young documentary filmmaker to chronicle her return.
Despite the high pay, Tess dislikes the assignment. Melisandre is a force of nature — argumentative, volatile, with no respect for anyone. As the mother of an active toddler, Tess also is at odds with Melisandre's views of motherhood. Tess' daughter, Carla Scout, can be a handful, especially when she has an ear-piercing tantrum in the supermarket, but Tess finds Melisandre's actions unfathomable.
Lippman smoothly weaves parenting and unconditional love into an exciting mystery that spins on precise character studies. Motherhood hasn't mellowed the outspoken Tess, but it has made her more grounded and able to view the world differently. Lippman nails those little domestic scenes that can quickly spiral out of control.
"Hush Hush" superbly continues Lippman's stories about contemporary life.