Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May Book Review: The Last Place

I'm a mystery buff. But sometimes I get in a rut, gravitating to the same authors over and over again, waiting for their latest novels or looking for one of theirs that I haven't yet read. So it was a happy accident when I picked up a paperback mystery by a new--to me--author to read on the plane ride home from Phoenix last month and found I actually liked it.

Laura Lippman's The Last Place is one in a series about former Baltimore reporter turned private eye, Tess Monaghan. The opening pages hint at a sinister villain, but the first villain Tess actually encounters is an internet sex predator who has been chatting online with a family member of her friend Whitney. Tess plans to meet him in a bar, expose him, and scare him off, but Whitney has other plans. The two get carried away and leave Mickey Pechter with some seemingly minor physical reminders to stay from young girls.

Unfortunately for Tess, she winds up being charged with assault, and a judge sympathetic to the predator orders her to six months of psychiatric treatment for anger management. Tess is none too happy about the sentence and throws herself into work--an assignment from a non-profit organization to investigate five homicides that might have been the result of domestic violence. After investigating the first three homicides, Tess finds no connection to domestic violence in any of them and reports back to the organization, encouraging them to give up the futile search. When they accuse her of overcharging them and not finishing the job, Tess angrily goes back to research the last two deaths.

At this point, Tess stumbles upon some eerie coincidences that prompt her to dig deeper, whether or not they fit the non-profit's profile. She interviews Carl Dewitt, a Toll Facilities cop, who had discovered one of the victims' bodies and was so upset by it that he became obsessed with solving the case. He is eager to share his information with Tess and becomes her unlikely partner in investigation.

Soon Tess and Carl are in the midst of a puzzle, one with lots of missing pieces. Through persistent examination of every detail in the cases, Tess and Carl realize they are on the trail of a psychopath, and that it is only a matter of time before he kills again. The tension builds as the two get closer to this sinister villain and find themselves in danger as well.

Fans of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone or Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski will find Tess Monaghan equally likable. A strong, educated woman, Tess is perfectly capable of taking care of herself and shows some of the same smart-mouthed sarcasm of those two heroines, particularly in her sessions with the court-ordered psychiatrist. But Tess definitely has a softer side and carries a gun only out of necessity, not in any eagerness to use it.

Lippman doesn't use clever, but irrelevant teasers to entice the reader nor does she use blood and gore, as so many other crime novelists do. Instead, she develops the novel as a true mystery, building detail upon detail until the final solution. The characters of Tess and Carl Dewitt are well-developed, but secondary characters like Tess' boyfriend Crow are not so well-drawn. However, in fairness to the Edgar Award-winning Lippman, The Last Place is the seventh in her Tess Monaghan series; thus, readers familiar with her earlier books may already know these characters well. As with any series, references are made to past cases and lost loves--a good excuse for me to start reading her previous novels!

I picked up this novel at my favorite mystery bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona, The Poisoned Pen. I went there on our last day specifically to pick up a signed copy of Clive Cussler's latest work for my oldest son, who's a big fan, and happened to see a display of Lippman's novels. As it turned out, she was going to be at the bookstore that evening to sign copies of her latest book, Life Sentences. Although I wasn't able to go that evening, I was intrigued and picked up The Last Place instead. I also checked out The Poisoned Pen's calendar of events--for a small bookstore, they have a very impressive "guest" list. Autographed photos of famous mystery writers who have held book signings there hang from the ceiling. Clive Cussler himself had been there the week before--had I only known, I would have gotten a personalized autograph for my son! And the week following included a visit from Jonathan Kellerman, whose Alex Delaware's novels I enjoy, along with wife Faye, also a novelist.

The Poisoned Pen is tucked away on a quiet street not far from Old Town Scottsdale. If you are ever in the Phoenix area, do take the time to visit!

If you're interested in finding a good book to read, check out other reviews at Barrie Summy's--you'll find quite a variety!


  1. Tess sounds like my kind of gal! Nice and strong and brave. I like a good mystery so I'll have to keep an eye out for Lippman's novels. It is shame you could not meet her! I am always excited to meet authors. I'll be profiling a garden writer soon and she is coming to Nashville next month. I'm very excited! Can you tell?

  2. Laura Lippman's mysteries sound right up my alley. And, next time I'm in Phoenix, I'm hitting The Poisoned Pen! Thanks!

  3. I’m so happy to see you back at book reviews. I don’t read many mysteries but you illustrate well the appeal of this genre. If I ever get the chance to go back to Phoenix (I hope so!), I’ll visit the Poisoned Pen.

  4. Like you, I have read and reread all the books by my favorite mystery authors. I have been looking for new ones to enjoy and this sounds as though it will be a good read. Bonus points that she has others to enjoy as well. Gardening and blogging leave little time to read now, but I still like having a bokk I can pick up and read when I do get a few minutes. Thanks for a great review!

  5. I like watching mysteries on TV, but don't tend to read them too much, though this one sounds promising. Love how you review books occasionally and now understand why ABC Wednesday was posted yesterday! Mystery solved. :)

  6. Sounds like a good read. I love a good mystery, thanks for sharing your review with us. :)

  7. Will look out for that book, though I think it is most unlikely that I would ever get to The Poison Pen! I wish.......

  8. Hi Rose, I read this one last winter and liked it too. This was my first Lippman book so I will be definitely getting more. It could have been a little faster paced. There was a lot of detail that led nowhere and slowed the story line down.

    I really like John Sandford and Beverly Connors. Their stories move with blazing speed. Sandford has a new one out on the May 12, looking forward to that.

  9. We usually listen to Sue Grafton books while traveling.

  10. Tina, Next time I visit my daughter I am going to check out the Poisoned Pen's calendar before I go and try to make it to one of the book signing. Can't wait to read about this garden writer you're going to meet!

    Barrie, I've only been to the Poisoned Pen twice, but both times I was enthralled. For mystery lovers, it's heaven:)

    Sarah, The PP also has some other related genre, like fantasy. But that's not my favorite. I hope I have time to read something with a little more "meat" to it before next month.

    Beckie, Right now I need a book I can pick up when I'm tired at night, but can put down easily. I don't need any more distractions:)

    Monica, Glad this mystery is solved!

    PG, Thanks to Sarah Lawrence, I got involved in this. I love to read, but right now gardening is the number one priority.

    Maggie May, I'm sure there must be other independent bookstores like this around, but we certainly don't have anything like it here at home.

    Marnie, I thought this one was a little slow at time and did include some unnecessary details. I guess I was trying to look at the positive side here:) I do enjoy John Sanford, too, but I've never read anything by Beverly Connors--I'll have to check her out.

    Lisa, I like Sue Grafton's books; I think I've missed a few of the letters, though:) The last one I read--don't remember if it's the latest or not--is definitely the best of the series so far!

  11. That book sounds like something my hubbie would like. He likes mystery, murder, crime books.

  12. Rose, I like Laura Lippman's books, although, I haven't read all of her Tess books! It's been a good while since I've read a mystery that really grabbed and held my attention. Gardening is such a distraction! I think a visit to the library or bookstore is in order. Aren't they lucky to have a bookstore like The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale/Phoenix all our small independents are gone! (the word verification is tessi)


  13. Loved WHAT THE DEAD KNOW and her latest-LIFE SENTENCES. I feel these are even better than the Tess books.

  14. You had me at, "Fans ... Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski" but you reeled me in with "she develops the novel as a true mystery, building detail upon detail until the final solution."

    I'm well and truly interested now!

  15. Dear Rose.....a beautifully written review....I love to read them especially as it means I do not have to read the you know I am not into fiction.....and murder mystery, I am not sure....

    Two years ago Mr P and I were treated to a ride on an old steam train. While we were eating supper a murder took place (not a real one of course) The actors wore victorian dress.......and each scene was shown from carriage to carriage. It was a fantastic evening. At the end of the hour long journey you had to guess who the murderer was. I got it wrong, so did Mr p, but it was a fun time. I think you would have loved it......

  16. I started with V.I. and then moved on to the Grafton ABC which i prefer, but best of all i love the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. I'll look out for this author though.

  17. Thanks everyone for your comments and suggested ideas for reading; I'll check into those. I've been busy in the garden--pulling weeds while the sun shines, so to speak--and will try to visit everyone over the next few days.

  18. I love the occassional mystery, this one sounds like a good read.If you have time, stop by to read my book review thanks :P

  19. Thanks for the review. My mother, sister, and I are avid readers and pass books along to each other. We like you, tend to get in ruts and read the same authors. I do get tired of some of them, so it will be nice to look for something a little different. Thanks, Rose!


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