Baltimore local Tess Monaghan thought she knew the Sugar Housethe abandoned factory that remains a stubborn and defiant legacy of the city’s pastuntil a client named Ruthie asks the newspaperwoman-turned-p.i. to investigate a year-old “Jane Doe” murder and its grim aftermath. Ruthie’s low-life brother, Henry, confessed to killing a teenage runaway over a bottle of glueand, a month into his prison term, met the same fate as his victim. Following a precious few tantalizing clues, Tess’s hunt for the truth is leading her from Baltimore’s exclusive Inner Harbor to the city’s seediest neighborhoodsa hunt that turns deadly with the shocking discovery of the runaway’s true identity. Suddenly, a supposedly solved murder case is turning up newer, fresher corpses and newer, scarier versions of the Sugar Houseplaces that look sweet and safe . . . but only from the outside.
About the Author
Laura Lippman is the author of eleven novels featuring Baltimore private detective Tess Monaghan, seven stand-alone novels, and a short story collection. Her six most recent books have all been New York Times bestsellers. Lippman has won numerous literary prizes for her work, including the Edgar®, Anthony, Nero Wolfe, Agatha, Gumshoe, Barry, and Macavity Awards. A recent recipient of the first-ever Mayor's Prize, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, David Simon; their daughter; and her stepson.
Date of Birth:January 31, 1959
Place of Birth:Atlanta, Georgia
Education:B.S., Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, 1981
Read an Excerpt
Sour beef day dawned clear and mild in Baltimore.
Other cities have their spaghetti dinners and potluck at the local parish, bull roasts and barbecues, bake sales and fish fries. Baltimore had all those things, too, and more. But in the waning, decadent days of autumn, there came a time when sour beef was the only thing to eat, and Locust Point was the only place to eat it.
"I'm going to ask for an extra dumpling," Tess told her boyfriend, Crow, as his Volvo edged forward through the neighborhood's narrow streets. The unseasonably warm day had sharpened her appetite, but then a cold one would have done the same thing. Just about everything goosed Tess Monaghan's appetite. Good weather, bad weather. Good news, bad news. Love affairs, breakups. Peace, war. Day and night. She had eaten when she was depressed; happy now, she ate more. Then she worked out, so she could eat again.
But the primary reason she ate was because she was hungry, a feeling she never took for granted.
"You deserve an extra dumpling," Crow said. "You deserve whatever your heart desires. What do you want for Christmas, anyway?"
"Nothing, I keep telling you, absolutely nothing. I have everything I want." She squeezed his knee. "Although if I could have anything, it would be one of those neon signs you see at beauty supply stores, the ones that say 'Human Hair.' "
Crow started to slide the car into a mirage of a space, only to realize the gap was really an alleyway. He sighed philosophically. "Locust Point feels like it's at the end of the world."
"Just the end of Baltimore."
"Isn't that the same thing?" He was teasing her, in away that only he could. There was no bitter under Crow's sweet, no meaness lurking in his narrow face. When they had first known each other, that almost-pretty face had been lost under a head full of purple dreads. Shorn now, and back to his natural black, Crow was a guileless little beacon, beaming his feelings out into the world. She liked that in a man.
Unless the man was her father, standing on the church steps, frowning at his watch. Her Uncle Spike was next to him, chewing placidly on a cigar. Uncle Spike didn't take time so seriously.
"Great, we're late, and we'll never find a parking space this close. Look, even the fire truck is illegally parked."
"Just for carry-out," said Crow, who couldn't shake his bad habit of thinking the best of everyone. "See, there the firefighters are now, with a stack of plastic containers. What does sour beef taste like, anyway?"
"Like sauerbraten, I guess. Not that I've ever had sauerbraten."
"I thought sour beef was sauerbraten."
"Yes, but-well, Baltimore, Crow." Funny how much could be explained with just those four words. Yes, but, well, Baltimore. "If we don't get in soon, there'll be a line. The dinner's late this year, because of a fire in the kitchen. Usually it's before Thanksgiving."
"Why don't I let you out here, and then come in when I find a place to park? Just save me a seatand make sure it's next to you."
Tess leaned across the gearshift for a quick kiss. Crow grabbed her and gave her the sort of deep, passionate, openmouth probe suitable to sending a loved one behind prison walls, or into the French Foreign Legion. Since they had reunited this fall, he was living in the moment with characteristic fervor. Tess found it overwhelming, exhausting, and altogether glorious.
Although the glory faded a little when she surfaced for air and found her father's blue eyes focused on them in a hard, unapproving stare. Tess disentangled herself, slipped out of the car, and crossed the street, wishing she didn't blush so easily. It was the one thing she had in common with her father, one of those red-all-over redheads.
"You went all the way to Texas to get him?" Patrick Monaghan asked, not for the first time.
"She brings 'em back alive," Uncle Spike said around the butt-end of his cigar. His bald head gleamed in the weak winter sun, and his liver spots seemed to have multiplied since Tess last saw him, making his resemblance to a springer spaniel all the more pronounced. "Her and Frank Buck. They bring 'em back alive. He's a good kid, Pat"
"Kid being the operative word," her father said.
"Just six years younger, Dad," said Tess, determined not to let anything mar this annual ritual. "If the sexes were reversed, you wouldn't think about it twice."
But the word sexes was a mistake, even in a neutral context. Her father winced at the associations it raised.
"Has he had any luck finding a job?" Uncle Spike asked.
"The state's hiring," her father put in. "'Your Uncle Donald says he could find something for him at the Department of Transportation. He's got a lot of pull now, since he was posted to the comptroller's office,"
Tess laughed. "Crow as a state employee? I can't quite picture that. Don't worry, he'll find something. He's part time at Aunt Kitty's bookstore through Christmas, playing a few gigs around town. But that's more for his own pleasure than the money."
"An out-of-work musician," her father mused. "Yeah, that's what I envisioned the day you were born, honey. It's what every father wants for his little girl, you know. Does he have a criminal record, too? That would just make my day."
Tess considered and rejected several replies. "Let's get inside, before the line gets too long."
A volunteer, resplendent in a green and red double-knit pants suit, took their money and pointed them to four places at a long cafeteria table in the farthest comer of the parish hall. Tess inhaled-deeply, happily, nostalgicially.
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What People are Saying About This
Laura Lippman is a terrific writer! As far as I'm concerned, she can't write fast enough.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Tess's fifth adventure is her most exciting yet! And Laura Lippman captures the spirit of Baltimore like no one else. The Sugar House is a great book...and a fast read too. I read it in two lazy afternoons on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland. The greatest thing about Lippman's books is that I can relate to every location in them (save for the In Big Trouble Texas locations). For instance, my company's softball games take place in Latrobe Park, which is one of the main settings in The Sugar House. I can close my eyes and see the Baltimore locales in the finest detail. Hooray for Tess Monaghan! Hooray for Laura Lippman!
In Baltimore, like many cities, it is not always one¿s abilities but whom you know that earns a person a job filled with perks and privileges. City native, private detective Tess Monaghan knows that first hand because her well connected father toils as a state liquor board inspector. That might bother some people, but not Tess who remains close to her father. Her father asks Tess to take on the case of Ruthie Dembrow, a woman who believes that the family of her sibling¿s victim assassinated him in jail. Tess starts by trying to identify the Jane Doe Henry killed since the deceased¿s fingerprints were not on file and no missing person¿s report matched. After intensive legwork, she concludes that the dead woman is Gwen Schiller, daughter of a wealthy, prominent family. However, the Schillers are unaware that Gwen is dead, making it more evident that her client¿s brother was killed in just another jailhouse incident. Tess still has some unanswered questions that will soon place her in the unenviable position of scrutinizing people she cares about and probably will hurt. Laura Lippman¿s love for Baltimore comes shining through THE SUGAR HOUSE as the author pays homage to her city. The fascinating mystery contains many red herrings and false trails that compel readers to continue the novel until the plot answers all the questions. This hardcover debut continues the standard of excellence that the author established with her first novel but the scope has widened to appeal to a mainstream audience. Harriet Klausner