REVIEW by @GinnyLurcock: In A Strange City by Laura Lippman

As a P.I., Tess Monaghan has done some unusual things. But nothing tops this latest request from a very strange man. On January 19th, Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, he wants her to stake out the writer’s grave to catch the anonymous visitor who leaves three red roses and brandy in tribute each year. Though no true Baltimorean would unmask Poe’s admirer and destroy a cherished tradition, Tess finds herself too curious to resist.
But to Tess’s surprise, two “visitors” appear and a struggle soon ensues, leaving one dead as the other vanishes. In a case as macabre as anything conceived by Poe himself, the P.I.-turned-unlikely-eyewitness will delve into the murky depths of the city’s most notorious past crimes to find answers…and a black-hearted killer.
And to think… all of this begins with a fortuitous meeting with a man who looked suspiciously like a pig. One Mr. Jonathan P. Kennedy, aka the Porcine One, pays a visit to Tess Monaghan in early January, needing her help to unmask the Poe Toaster, a man who visit’s Edgar Allan Poe’s grave every year on January 19th and leaves 3 red roses and a bottle of cognac. (Or used to, he stopped in 2009) His reason? He believes he knows the man’s identity and claims that the man ripped him off on a bracelet he claimed belonged to Betsy Patterson Bonaparte. Tess refuses on the basis that some things, such as unmasking an icon are simply not done.
Turns out that (surprise surprise) everything the Porcine One told her was a giant crock.
This is something that they do not know when Crow talks her into going to watch the Poe Toaster. His argument is that even though she didn’t take the job she is a native of Baltimore and had never actually witnessed the iconic event. Because of this single decision to get out of bed in the middle of the night in the middle of winter in freaking Baltimore leads Tess on a new investigation, one for which she’s not even getting paid.
I was a bit torn as to what to mention about the book’s nuts and bolts. Overall, the book is about things. Yes, things. It’s about how some people have this overwhelming desire to posses things, and that they value these things to the point that they begin to identify themselves by their possessions. Also, about how some people would do anything to posses that one item, that one THING, that would somehow make their life complete. I like to say that as a non-materialistic person I am immune to this and don’t understand it, but there are items that if I lost, I would feel bereft without.
On the subject of things was one of my favorite quotes: “It seemed to Tess that Pitt’s mission in life was to reapportion the planet’s stuff, buying it from one person and selling it to another.”
Another reoccurring theme was homophobia, gay rights, and hate crimes. It bothered me, not because of Laura Lippman’s writing, or because I thought she was taking a stance, or because I disagreed with her, but because it’s something that happens. See, someone uses the events of the book to drag out their soapbox. In doing so, they lose sight of the victim in the rush to promote their cause. No one should be sacrificed for the greater good in this sense.
I was happy that Crow played a large part in this volume. Crow is the perfect post-modern Beta boyfriend. Artistic, intelligent, supportive, but still willing to fight Tess on matters he feels are important. I think another of the best quotes in the book concerns him: “Gretchen looked at Tess. ‘Is he on drugs?’ ‘No, but his serotonin levels are off the chart.’”
We meet new characters as well. Since the bad guy in every book is usually someone close to the action, I can’t help but go through the book without going “OH GOD, PLEASE DON’T BE A PSYCHO KILLER” every time a new character is introduced. Because the bad guy is usually someone you know, people have complained that they “figure things out too quickly” and “knew the who, how, and why by 25% into the book”… but I try to ignore those. They’d complain if you didn’t know who the killer was too. Haters gotta hate.
Yes fine, I did have a suspicion who the bad guy was… but still… it was a good book. Perhaps a little slow in places, but chock full of Poe goodness. I’ve had Poe-try lines floating through my head since I began reading the book.
4.0 out o 5.0
Also… I suddenly feel the overwhelming urge to travel to Baltimore every January 19th and leave 3 roses and a bottle of cognac on the grave of one of the country’s best writers.
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