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The Last Place    by Laura Lippman order for
Last Place
by Laura Lippman
Order:  USA  Can
Avon, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

The elite group of female private investigators can now welcome another member. Laura Lippman's well-written series about Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan is worthy of being included in the ranks of Linda Barnes's Carlotta Carlyle, Sue Grafton's Linsey Milhone and Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski. Although there are many mysteries now featuring lead female characters, only these women stand out above the crowd. The characters are multi-dimensional, not necessarily ones you would want as your best friends, but certainly independent, feisty and just very interesting. Even better, the books have well-developed minor characters and sound plots.

Tess is a former newspaper reporter (as is the author) in her late 20's who has took to detective work many of the investigative skills she used as a reporter. It's fun to see how she ferrets out the details of a crime using all kinds of techniques to elicit information. As she says, 'I believe there was always a criminal in me, waiting to find a noncriminal way to express itself. So far, this arrangement is working out nicely'. Baltimore and its environs are very much a character in these mysteries. Much like the old TV show Homicide showed people all the facets of Baltimore, Lippman's books really bring the city setting to life.

In this seventh in the series, Tess Monaghan travels around Maryland to investigate a series of unsolved homicides of mostly young women. She has been hired by a foundation that wants to press its case with the legislature, that the police are not doing their jobs in solving domestic abuse/homicides. Once Tess starts digging, she realizes that these murders, occurring over six years, are surprisingly linked. Even weirder is their apparent connection to a death in Tess's own past. Tess is accompanied by Carl Dewitt, a former bridge toll officer, who had the misfortune to find the head of one of the victims and has been obsessed with her ever since. Carl is a real loner, who relates to life through the plots of old movies, but he and Tess form an effective if unlikely team and the reader will enjoy driving around Maryland with them.

Lippman has constructed a very effective plot and intersperses the story with sections told from the killer's perspective, always a good way to build suspense. Fortunately in this book there is less focus on Monaghan's family, the obligatory eccentric and dysfunctional group that most mysteries seem to have. Instead the focus is just on good story-telling with memorable minor characters. The author's previous books have won several major mystery awards and been nominated for many others. They are well-deserved and we can look forward to hearing what Tess is up to in her next adventure.

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