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.