I finished Laura Lippman's Baltimore Blues last night, and I was pleased with the overall story and its characters. In brief, Tess Monaghan is a former reporter, struggling to find employment when her rowing friend asks her to check up on his fiancee. Tess reluctantly accepts because she needs the money and because she cares for her friend. Unfortunately, Tess suspects that the fiancee is having an affair with her boss, a disreputable lawyer with a reputation for defending the scum of humanity... at least, before he's murdered. The prime suspect is Tess's friend, and now she's out to uncover the real killer.
The story is pretty straightforward with a fairly likable cast of supporting players. What really makes this book successful, however, is not the story or the characters, but rather the setting -- Baltimore, which becomes a character in it of itself. Lippman, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and long-time resident of Charm City, clearly knows her territory, making full use of various known landmarks as well as unknown neighborhoods and traditions. It's a richly layered guide to Baltimore that only touches on the wealth that the city offers.
Ultimately, what really nagged me, though, was my own proximity to Baltimore. When I read other mysteries and the author takes great care bringing location into the story, I'm often impressed with the detail and character of those settings. As a writer, part of me often speculates -- are these real places or did the author make them up? Now, having read Baltimore Blues and dabbling in local color, I must confess that it's rather strange to read about places I've been to, or could get to within a half hour's drive. When Lippman actually mentions my own county, including a town not far from where I live, I had to pause and remind myself that Baltimore Blue was just fiction.