Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Defrocked journalist" turned private investigator Tess Monaghan (from Baltimore Blues) is posing as a reporter for the Baltimore Beacon-Light, aka the Blight, in order to look into the apparent suicide of hometown hero and tycoon "Wink" Wynkowski. Political and journalistic corruption surrounds plans for a new basketball stadium for which Wink was a major dealmaker. But Tess's personal life is also being drawn in to the case: her Uncle Spike is in a coma as a result of a mugging that may be related, leaving Tess the reluctant caretaker of his lovable, if smelly, greyhound. A denouement from left field will startle some readers, but it is a small price to pay for shrewd observation, on-target descriptions, believable characters and hilarious one-liners. Baltimore Blues showed promise after a faltering start, and here Lippman displays a far surer, more even, hand. (Oct.)
Tess Monaghan, a former reporter for a Baltimore newspaper, is working as an investigator for a city lawyer, hoping to get her professional license as a PI. Business magnate Wink Wynkowski is trying to bring professional basketball to Baltimore. The editors of the local Baltimore Beacon-Lightnewspaper decide not to run a story about Wink because of his grimy past and his current financial troubles. They don't want the distasteful details of his past to jeopardize the chances of getting a basketball team, but someone without authorization hacks into the newspaper's computer, and the story runs anyway. Almost simultaneously, Wink is found dead in his car, an apparent suicide. Tess is hired by the paper to investigate the article and Wink's death. Rosita Ruiz, an unscrupulous reporter for the Beacon-Light, has been known to fabricate stories to suit her own agenda. After being fired, she is also found dead. Another suicide? Tess doesn't think so and sets out to prove her assumptions. Best-selling author Lippman's writing style here seems random and inconsistent, though the plot holds some interest. Read by Deborah Hazlett, this mildly entertaining mystery, first published in paperback in 1997, won the Edgar and Shamus awards. It is being reissued this December in hardcover. Purchase upon request or for libraries collecting Lippman's works.
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Nothing wet was falling out of the sky. No snow, no ice, no hail, no rain changing to sleet, no sleet changing to rain. And that was reason enough, Tess Monaghan decided, to feel celebratory. She would walk home from work instead of taking her usual bus, maybe stop at Bertha's and squinch up her nose at the tourists eating mussels, or nurse something warm and alcoholic at Henniger's. A March Monday night in Baltimore would never be Mardi Gras, or even Lundi Gras, but it could have its moments, for savvy natives inclined to seek them out. Tess was inclined. For the first time in more than two years, she had a full-time job and a full-time boyfriend. Her life might not have the partyall-the-time euphoria of a beer commercial, but it was definitely edging into International Coffee territory.
The first few blocks of her walk home were deserted. Downtown tended to empty out early. But as Tess approached the Inner Harbor, she suddenly found herself in the thick of a jazzed-up, happy crowd. Were those klieg lights up ahead? Tess might have left newspaper reporting behind, but her instincts could still be juiced. Besides, she had caught a whiff of food-hot dogs, popcorn pretzels, something sweet and scorched. Cotton candy, one of those seductive foods that smelled so much better than it tasted.
"It's all free, hon," a vendor said, holding out a hot dog slathered with mustard and relish. "Courtesy of the Keys."
Tess had no idea what he was talking about, but she took the hot dog anyway.
What would draw so many people to the harbor on a usually dead Monday evening, she wondered, finishing off the free dog in three bites. Businessmentypes, coming from work. Young men in athletic gear and polished-looking women in gabardine raincoats, high heels striking sidewalks only recently liberated from the last ice storm. Then there were the suburban moms, in leggings, oversize sweaters, and fluffy jackets, holding tight to the hands of small children, who held even tighter to small black-and-violet flags.
Carried along by the crowd and its feverish anticipation, Tess found herself at the small outdoor amphitheater between Harborplace's two pavilions. Hundreds of people were already there, massed in front of the small stage. A man with a bullhorn, a local television anchor, was leading a chant. It took Tess a moment to understand the bluffed, electronically amplified words.
"Slam dunk! Jam one! Slam dunk! Jam one!"
Other men filed out, a ragtag basketball team in blackand-violet warm-up outfits. Some wore shorts, their legs all purple gooseflesh in the brisk evening. Who would be crazy enough to come out like that on a night like this? Tess recognized the governor. That figured; he had never met a costume he didn't like. But the mayor, not known for his sense of whimsy, was there as well in a black warm-up suit, his trademark Kente cloth tie peeking over the zipper. Tess spotted another television type, two state senators, and a few pituitary cases from the old Baltimore Bullets, now the Washington Wizards, renamed in deference to that city's homicide rate. Surprisingly, the name change hadn't done much to quell the capital's violence.
"Slam dunk! Jam one! Slam dunk! Jam one!"
Beneath the crowd's chant, Tess picked out a tinny recording, the city's onetime public service jingle, which had encouraged people to keep the streets clean by playing "trash ball." She remembered it vaguely. The city's orange-and-white wastebaskets had been decorated with slogans such as Jam One! or Dunk One! Then they'd ended the campaign and collectors of Baltimorebilia had stolen the trash cans before they could be taken off the streets and repainted.
Another man limped out on stage, an aging athlete whose cane gave his garish warm-up suit a strangely aristocratic look. "Toooooooooooch. Toooooooooooch," men yodeled and a few women actually screamed when he acknowledged the cheer with a thumb's-up. Yes, Paul Tucci still had his Loyola boy good looks and the build of the star athlete he had once been, although he was fleshier since his much-publicized knee replacement surgery earlier in the winter. Tess suspected the women were swooning not for the Tucci physique, but for the Tucci fortune, which had started in olive oil, then oozed into virtually every aspect of Baltimore life, from food importing to waste disposal. "The Tuccis get you coming and going, it was commonly said.
The music on the P.A. system changed to the sprightly, whistling version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" associated with the Harlem Globetrotters. The governor, inexpertly dribbling a basketball, broke from the group, jigged forward, then passed the ball to the mayor, throwing it over his head. They had never worked together very well. The mayor recovered nicely, retrieving the ball and passing it beneath his legs to a state delegate with a quite new, quite bad hair transplant. The crowd roared its approval. For the pass or the plugs? Tess wondered. Tucci caught the ball and spun it on the tip of his cane, prompting a few more female screams. Then the real basketball players came forward, upstaging the pols with their perfunctorily perfect passes and moves.
After a few minutes, the television anchor-At least he's not dumb enough to come out here bare-legged, Tess noted-seized the floor again.
"Hellooooo, Baltimore." The crowd caroled the greeting back. "As you know, the city has been without basketball since 1972 and has only recently seen the return of football...