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In a Strange City (Tess Monaghan Series #6) [NOOK Book]


It is a treasured Charm City tradition. Every year on Edgar Allan Poe's birthday a figure wrapped in a dark cloak visits the renowned author's Baltimore gravesite and leaves behind three roses and half a bottle of cognac. No Baltimorean worth his or her salt would ever dream of trying to determine the true identity of the "Poe Toaster," thereby possibly destroying a cherished ritual. That's why Tess Monaghan refuses to help the odd, piglike man who wants to hire her to unmask ...

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In a Strange City (Tess Monaghan Series #6)

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It is a treasured Charm City tradition. Every year on Edgar Allan Poe's birthday a figure wrapped in a dark cloak visits the renowned author's Baltimore gravesite and leaves behind three roses and half a bottle of cognac. No Baltimorean worth his or her salt would ever dream of trying to determine the true identity of the "Poe Toaster," thereby possibly destroying a cherished ritual. That's why Tess Monaghan refuses to help the odd, piglike man who wants to hire her to unmask the Visitor, who the Porcine One claims has deceived and cheated him.

If nothing else, the rejected client's story has whetted Tess's curiosity—and so the following evening she and her enthusiastic boyfriend, Crow, are braving the winter chill and the graveyard dark to observe the strange, beloved rite from a respectful distance. But on this particular January 19, two caped figures approach Poe's resting place. One leaves the tribute and escapes into the night. The other dies there, felled by an assassin's bullet.

Tess sees nothing that the other witnesses didn't see. She isn't working for anyone at the moment—and the homicide detective who caught this particular "red ball" is an old and dangerous nemesis—so it might be worth her while to avoid this case like the plague. But someone else wants Tess involved in the worst way. A stranger is surreptitiously leaving her roses and cognac and bizarre, cryptic clues—someone who knows Tess's habits, someone who knows who she knows and where she lives. And suddenly home is a safe haven no longer.

Like it or not, Tess Monaghan is now a prime player in the murderous drama. And as the body count rises even higher, she uncovers links in a chain of greed, lies, false histories, and deadly acquisitiveness, a dangerously twisted mystery worthy of Poe himself.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Like all of us, private investigator Tess Monaghan is a devotee of Edgar Allan Poe and, like most of us, she knows that every year on January 19th, his birthday, an anonymous visitor walks to Poe's Baltimore grave and leaves three red roses and a bottle of brandy. That understood, it's to be expected that when she's approached by a prospective client to unmask The Raven's crypt visitor, she's a bit chagrined. But, blasphemy aside, she accepts the assignment. However, curiosity is supplanted by horror when, to Tess's surprise, two visitors appear in the cemetery and one kills the other.... In honor of this eerie mystery, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin himself would bow in respect.
Publishers Weekly
Edgar, Shamus, Anthony and Agatha award winner Lippman (Charm City; Butchers Hill; The Sugar House) pays homage to the inventor of the mystery form in this masterly contemporary mystery, set in Baltimore and replete with her trademark dry, sardonic wit. Every January 19th, in honor of Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, a loyal clique waits in the small hours for the "Visitor," also known as the "Poe Toaster," to approach Poe's tomb. He wears a formal cape and carries three blood-red roses and a bottle of cognac as tribute. For some reason the press keep their distance, as do bystanders. This year, for the first time, PI Tess Monaghan is present, too, along with her boyfriend, Crow. Having been roped into attendance by a would-be client, Tess awaits the coming of the Visitor in the freezing winter night. Suddenly, two caped men with roses and cognac show up. A shot rings out one man lies dead, the other runs off. A deliciously complex story follows that brings Baltimore center stage and delves anew into the mysteries surrounding Poe himself. Tess finds her own life in danger, and becomes a primary player in a story she'd intended to view only from the periphery. The author offers a host of Poe-esque thrills, from multiple murders to a woman buried alive. In the denouement, the clock ticks rapidly while Tess matches wits with the killer in order to rescue the victim from her tomb before her air runs out. Lippman shows in this, her sixth novel, that she's indeed deserving of all the kudos she's received. (Sept. 11) Forecast: With national print advertising, a 15-city NPR campaign and a six-city author tour, this novel will be well positioned to climb the genre bestseller charts. Copyright 2001Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It should be a routine case for private investigator Tess Weinstein Monaghan (The Sugar House, 2000). All the piggy little man whose card read "John P. Kennedy/antique scout" wants is to recover some missing property. But his story about an emerald bracelet belonging to local legend Betsy Bonaparte smells even fishier than the wares at Fuzzy Inglehart's Cross Street Market seafood stand. So Tess politely declines, especially since the alleged receiver of the stolen gems is none other than Baltimore's famed Poe Visitor, who brings roses and cognac to the dead writer's grave at midnight each January 19. When her curiosity gets the better of her, Tess, with her boyfriend Crow tagging along, stakes out the site anyway, only to find two Visitors, one of whom is fatally shot, leaving Tess with no client but plenty of trouble. Homicide detective Jay Rainier suspects her of knowing more than she's telling, childhood friend Cecilia Cesnik wants her help in making political hay of the murder just because the victim, upscale waiter Bobby Hilliard, happens to be gay, and rival detective Gretchen O'Brien hates her for messing up her own deal with the elusive Kennedy. Since sisterhood is powerful, Gretchen and Tess team up to tail a pair of thieves whose conversation reveals a scheme of breathtaking proportions. But in the end it's all Tess, uncovering the darkest-and most lethal-secret of all. If Lippman has her way, Baltimore will be a strange city no longer, but the delight of readers from there to San Diego. Mystery Guild selection; author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061807442
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Series: Tess Monaghan Series , #6
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 61,662
  • File size: 730 KB

Meet the Author

Laura Lippman

Since her debut in 1997, Laura Lippman has been heralded for her thoughtful, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. She is the author of twenty works of fiction, including eleven Tess Monaghan mysteries. She lives in Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York City with her family.


Laura Lippman was a reporter for 20 years, including 12 years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.

Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.

Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

Biography from author's website.

Good To Know

In our interview, Lippman shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself:

"I can do an imitation of Ethel Merman singing ‘Satisfaction.'"

"I'm not a Baltimore native -- I arrived here about six years too late for that. But I love the fact that I've convinced the world that I am."

"Like my character, Tess Monaghan, I used to row. Unlike her, I was very, very bad at it."

"I've written eight books in my series -- one not yet published -- and a stand-alone crime novel, but my subject is always, on some level, Baltimore.

It's a problem-place, neither northern nor southern, somewhat addicted to nostalgia, yet amnesiac about the more dicey parts of its past. I used an epigraph from H. L. Mencken in one of my books: ‘A Baltimorean is not merely John Doe, an isolated individual of Homo sapiens, like every other John Doe. He is a John Doe of a certain place -- of Baltimore, of a definite home in Baltimore.' I am a person of a certain place, and that place happens to be Baltimore."

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 31, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.S., Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, 1981

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

His card said he specialized in porcelain, but Tess Monaghan couldn't help thinking of her prospective client as the Porcine One. He had a round belly and that all-over pink look, heightened by a rashlike red on his cheeks, a souvenir of the cold day. His legs were so short that Tess felt ungracious for not owning a footstool, which would have kept them from swinging, childlike, above the floor. The legs ended in tiny feet encased in what must be the world's smallest -- and shiniest -- black wing tips. These had clicked across her wooden floor like little hooves. And now, after thirty minutes in this man's company, Tess was beginning to feel as crotchety and inhospitable as the troll beneath the bridge.

But that had been a story about a goat, she reminded herself. She was mixing her fairy-tale metaphors. He seemed to be a nice man, if a garrulous one. Let him huff and puff.

"I don't have a shop, not really," he was saying. "I did once, but I find I can do as much business through my old contacts. And the Internet, of course. A good scout doesn't need a shop."

"Of course."

He had been chatting about Fiestaware and Depression glass since he arrived. It wasn't clear if he even knew he was in a private detective's office, That was okay. She had nothing else to occupy her time on a January afternoon.

"Those auction sites are really for-amateurs-only, if you know what I mean. That's where I go when I want to unload something that doesn't have any real value but which people might get emotional about. For example, let's say I wasgoing to try to sell a Fiestaware gravy boat in teal, which is a very rare color. I'd have to set the reserve so high that people would get all outraged and think I was trying to cheat them. But put a Lost in Space lunch box out there, and they just go crazy, even if it's dented and the original thermos is missing."

Tess glanced at her notes, where so far she had written the man's name, J.P Kennedy/antique scout, and not much else. She added gravy boat/teal and Lost in Space -- no thermos.

"Now, you have some nice things," the Porcine One said suddenly. "This Planter's Peanut jar and the Berger cookie jar. I could get you good money for these. And the clock. Especially the clock."

He stared almost hungrily at the Time for a Haircut clock that had once hung in a Woodlawn barbershop. Tess wondered if he would be similarly impressed by the neon sign in her dining room at home, which said "Human Hair." That had come from a beauty supply shop, one where the demand for human hair was no longer so great as to require solicitation.

"Look, Mr." -- she glanced covertly at her desk calendar, having blanked on his name -- "Kennedy --"

"Call me John. No relation." He giggled; there was no other word for it. A cheerleader or a sorority girl would have been embarrassed to emit such a coy little squeal. "I'm JPK, I guess you could say. That's why I sometimes use the full name, John Pendleton Kennedy, to avoid confusion, but it only seems to add confusion. You may call me John."

"Mr. Kennedy," she repeated. Being on a first-name basis was highly overrated, in Tess's opinion. "I was under the impression you were interested in hiring me, not scouting my possessions for a quick buck."

"Oh, I am, I am. Interested in hiring you." But he was looking at her Planter's jar now, where she stored her business-related receipts until she had time to file them. He even held out a pudgy pink hand, as if to stroke the jar's peanut curves. On the sofa across the room, Tess's greyhound, Esskay, raised her head, ears pointed straight up. The Porcine One's hand was dangerously close to the Berger cookie jar, which held Esskay's favorite treats.

"People rush so, these days," Mr. Kennedy said. Yet he spoke as quickly as anyone Tess had ever known, his words tumbling nervously over each other. "No pleasantries, no chitchat. I suppose we'll stop saying 'How are you?' before long. I can't remember the last time someone said 'Bless you' or even 'Gesundheit' after a sneeze. Again, I blame the Internet. It creates an illusion of speed. And E-mail. Don't get me started on E-mail."

Get him started? All Tess wanted to figure out was how to get him to stop.

"It's a hard time to be an honest man," he said, then looked surprised, as if caught off guard by his own non sequitur. A good sign, Tess thought. He had inadvertently veered closer to the subject of why he was here.

"How so?"

"Dealers such as myself, we are expected to go to great lengths to make sure the items we buy and sell are legitimate. Yet there is little protection afforded us by the law when we are duped. When I buy something, I do everything I can to ensure I'm dealing with someone reputable. Then it turns up on some hot sheet and I'm expected to give it back, with no recompense for my time and money."

Tess had no idea what he was talking about. "You bought something that was stolen and you had to give it back?"

"Something like that." He folded his little hands across his round belly, settling into his chair as if Tess were a dentist, the truth an infected molar she was preparing to extract. No, he was more like a patient in therapy, one who enjoyed the endlessly narcissistic process of paying someone to figure out why he did what he did.

But she...

In a Strange City. Copyright © by Laura Lippman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2011

    For every wannabe Nancy Drew!

    I love Tess Monaghan and the PI she has become, but, you want to yell "don't go in there" ! But Laura Lippman still writes a good mystery with a good story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2009

    Another great one from Laura Lippman.

    If you like the Tess M. series, then you will love this fast moving thriller from Laura Lippman.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2002

    A disappointing read

    "In a Strange City" starts off with a promising beginning and an interesting plot, but is quick to bog down with too many unneccessary details and not near enough likeable charecters. The book quickly abandons the Visitor storyline and moves into many much less interesting side stories. Tess Monaghan is an unbearably annoying charecter with not enough charm to compell the reader to feel anything for her other than vague dislike and she left me wondering how the heck she became a private investigator. She doesn't have enough intelligence or guts to be a PI and is surprisingly slow on the uptake. This book is bogged down with Balitimore details that are supposed to be eccentric or cutesy, but just come off as strange. Baltimore is a city that strikes the reader as too boring, overlooked, and small of a city to place a book in. If "In a Strange City" finished with as much promise as it started, this would be a very different review. Unfortuantely, it patronizes the readers too much to be worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2001


    Crime writer Laura Lippman, the winner of every important mystery award (an Edgar, a Shamus, an Anthony, and an Agatha), now pays tribute to the man many consider to be the world's premier mystery writer - Edgar Allen Poe. 'In A Strange City,' Lippman's sixth novel to feature PI Tess Monaghan is set in Baltimore where in the predawn hours of every January 19th, the anniversary of Poe's birthday, a coterie of the famed author's fans wait to see a mysterious visitor who comes to Poe's tomb bearing 3 blood red roses and a bottle of cognac. This year, Tess is among those waiting for a glimpse of the mysterious 'Poe Visitor.' She is surprised to see not one but two cloaked men carrying the appropriate tributes; she is even more surprised to see one murdered as the other escapes into the semi-darkness. Bobby Hilliard, a 28-year-old gay waiter is the victim. The senseless beating of another gay man some days earlier and Hilliard's death arouse the local gay and lesbian rights group headed by Tess's former friend attorney Cecelia Cesnik. The group insists that a maniacal homophobe is running amok. Tess soon finds herself enmeshed in a multi-layered swirl of events pulling her in opposite directions. Hammered on by the chief detective who thinks she knows more than she's telling, our heroine is also stalked by an unknown person who leaves cognac and three red roses by her front door. There's more than mere murder here as Tess suspects a complicated scheme involving priceless antiques and other black marketables begins to emerge. Ms. Lippman has laced her latest thriller with strains of greed and homophobia, and included such Poe-isms as a victim buried alive and a ticking clock. It makes for a unique and compelling read.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Tour of Baltimore mystery

    Nobody loves and appreciates Baltimore more than Tess Monahan, who has seen the city¿s seamier side and still thinks it is a beautiful place. The former reporter turned private detective would not think of living anywhere else as her roots go deep into the city¿s soul. <P>Every night on January 19th, the visitor comes to Poe¿s grave, leaving behind a glass of cognac and roses on his final resting site. Ironically, the first and only time Tess goes to the grave to see the Visitor two men show up, one killing the other. Earlier in the day, a wannabe client wants Tess to find out the identity of the Visitor because he believes the Visitor hid money that belongs to him. The police think the victim is not the Visitor and plead for the client to come in so they can ask him some questions since he was a witness. Tess would like to stay out of the mess altogether but that proves impossible to do when somebody leaves half a bottle of cognac and some roses on her doorstep. More incidents concerning the murder draw her deeper into the homicide than any other one she has previously investigated. <P> Laura Lippman defines Baltimore and her love for her chosen city shines brightly on every page of IN A STRANGE CITY. People who read this book will definitely want to take a vacation to this city to enjoy its uniqueness. Ms. Lippman has created a complex and fascinating linear story line that will leave the audience guessing on the who and why of the killing until the last chapter. <P>Harriet Klausner

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