Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

January 31, 2013

Plot summary (from the publisher): In a city where someone is murdered almost every day, attorney Michael Abramowitz’s death should be just another statistic. But the slain lawyer’s notoriety—and his taste for illicit midday trysts—make the case front-page news in every local paper except the Star, which crashed and burned before Abramowitz did. A former Star reporter who knows every inch of this town—from historic Fort McHenry to the crumbling projects of Cherry Hill—now unemployed journalist Tess Monaghan also knows the guy the cops like for the killing: cuckolded fiance Darryl “Rock” Paxton. The time is ripe for a career move, so when rowing buddy Rock wants to hire her to do some unorthodox snooping to help clear his name, Tess agrees. But there are lethal secrets hiding in the Charm City shadows. And Tess’ own name could end up on that ever-expanding list of Baltimore dead.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I enjoyed Lippman’s writing style. Her prose was easy to read without sounding dumbed-down or condescending. Plus, there were several literary references throughout, which was a bit unexpected for a crime/thriller.
  • Tess seems like a decent antagonist. She appears to be in the Stephanie Plum mold (i.e. not supermodel hot, less than ideal financial situation, new to the whole investigation thing), but a bit more competent. I liked her well enough and she didn’t pull off any super-human feats in the book, which was a plus.
  • I thought Lippman handled the Baltimore setting very well. She gave enough description to allow me to develop a real sense of place without going overboard into travelogue mode like many writers do.


  • All the rowing stuff made my eyes glaze over. It’s fine that Tess has a hobby and exercise regimen, but the author spent way too much time describing workout regimens, racing, and the merits of various accessories like kuat racks. Boring!
  • I didn’t like Rock very much. He seemed far too weak and passive, which made me not care if he rotted in jail for Abramowitz’s murder or not.
  • The solution to the crime was a bit convoluted. A wealthy family’s mentally unbalanced son killed a young boy. The boy was buried on the family’s estate while the son was shipped off to a mental hospital. The family then paid a serial killer (who had conveniently preyed on young boys in the area) to confess to that crime as well to take any potential heat off the family. Abramowitz was the serial killer’s lawyer and also got some money for his silence. Then Abramowitz was killed by the janitor in the building for some reason that I have already forgotten. Maybe because Abramowitz successfully defended the guy who raped the janitor’s daughter? I dunno. Like I said, way more convoluted than it needed to be.
  • The older, beautiful, sexually liberated aunt with her younger boy toys just felt like such a cliche.
  • The book took a very long time to get going and probably could have benefited from an editor’s wisdom. Don’t editors suggest cuts anymore?


Baltimore Blues was recently on the “Recommended” table at my local library, which is why I’m just getting to it now despite the fact that it was published in 1996. It was a decent debut for the series, with a likable main character and an interesting setting. I’m open to reading more from Laura Lippman, and will likely get around to the second book in the near future. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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