Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan is truly one of the most appealing and original PI protagonist to have appeared in last few years. She is not a self assured repository of cliches, but a three dimensional person, occasionally irritating but always interesting and sympathetic. WIth this book, Lippman's sixth in the series, the Monaghan series rises to it's full potential as one of the premiere PI series of the last decade.
In A Strange City opens up with a scene that harkens back to a Hammett or Chandler novel: a grotesquely overweight man hires Monaghan to follow a man to recover a necklace he says was stolen from him. Seems pretty straightforward, except for the fact that the man he wants her to follow is a local Baltimore legend known as the "Poe Visitor", a cloaked figure who lays a tribute of roses and cognac at the grave of Edgar Allen Poe at the anniversary of his death.
Of course things quickly go haywire as Monaghan is thrust into a murky plot which includes fanatical bibliofiles, an antagonistic homicide detective and a series of assaults and burglaries that seem to target gay men. It's a murky stew, but it's actually quite an original plot and Lippman's prose makes it seem perfectly clear and convincing.
The best part of this series (indeed, the best part of all detective fiction) is the sense of place and setting which brings the city of Baltimore true to life. The only thing I knew about Baltimore came from episodes of "Homicide:Life on the Streets"("The Best Damn Show on TV"). But reading this series makes me seem like I've been living there for years.
I gave this book less than five stars (Four and a half, really, but I can't give half ratings) because I spotted the killer fairly easily. But that really doesn't take from the book. After all, the best part of detective fiction is not who killed who. It's the journey that counts.