In a Strange City (Tess Monaghan Series #6)

In a Strange City (Tess Monaghan Series #6)

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by Laura Lippman

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It is a Charm City tradition—an annual visit to theBaltimore gravesite of Edgar Allan Poe on the renowned author’s birthday by a mysterious cloaked figure bearing gifts of three roses and a half bottle of cognac. This year, private investigator Tess Monaghan is among the witnesses of the locally cherished rite. And on this frigid January night, she sees

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It is a Charm City tradition—an annual visit to theBaltimore gravesite of Edgar Allan Poe on the renowned author’s birthday by a mysterious cloaked figure bearing gifts of three roses and a half bottle of cognac. This year, private investigator Tess Monaghan is among the witnesses of the locally cherished rite. And on this frigid January night, she sees two caped visitors approaching Poe’s resting place. One leaves his tribute and escapes. The other dies there, felled by an assassin’s bullet. Curiosity brought Tess here to observe the desecration—and common sense tells her to lay low in its wake. But someone wants Tess involved in the murder investigation in the worst way. An anonymous stranger who leaves roses and cognac and cryptic clues on her doorstep; someone who knows her habits, her haunts . . . and what she knows. And suddenly home is a safe haven no longer.

Editorial Reviews

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

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Tess Monaghan Series, #6
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.30(d)

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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