Short Take: You got your mommy blog in my murder mystery!!!
Laura Lippman has been one of my go-to authors for a fun, exciting read, usually while on a long car trip or laying in the sun. Her books are generally fast-paced and filled with interesting characters, deep enough to suck me in, but light enough to be able to breeze through them. Not so much with this one.
Twelve years ago, beautiful, wealthy, Melissandre Dawes left her baby to die in a hot car while in the grip of postpartum psychosis. Found not guilty by reason of insanity, she served her time in a mental institution, and upon her release, fled the country, leaving her two older daughters (Alannah and Ruby) in the care of their father, Stephen.
Now, Melissandre is back in Baltimore, making a documentary about her case, and hoping to reunite with her long-estranged daughters. What starts out as a simple security job for PI Tess Monaghan becomes something much more complicated when both Tess and Melissandre start receiving anonymous, threatening notes. The notes escalate into incidents, which in turn escalate into a death.
It becomes a question of not only “what is going on?” but “what really happened twelve years ago?” As Tess gets pulled deeper into the case, the threats get closer to home.
This book just didn’t work for me. I love female detective stories, and I’ve been a fan of Laura Lippman for quite a while. But Hush Hush felt like a book where not much happens. I like a lot of action in my mystery novels, and this one had exactly one “fight” scene, in which a single kick is thrown.
Far too much of this book revolves around Tess’s daughter, three-year-old Carla Scout. I get it. It’s hard to be a working mother. It’s terrible to feel pulled in so many directions, and to feel that every time you focus your attention on one thing, you’re neglecting something else that’s just as important. But when I read a mystery, it’s because I want some some gratuitous violence, not page after page of diet restrictions for a child. I want some hot sex scenes, not paragraph after paragraph devoted to questioning if her partner is the better parent.
I know that real life doesn’t work that way, but dammit, that’s why I read, to escape from a day that may have been dominated by toddler tantrums or relationship issues or work problems or even stupid Comcast screwing with my favorite shows. Give me gun fights and car chases, not “I think I’m a failure as a mother. Am I a failure as a mother? It’s really hard to be a good mother, I’m pretty sure I might be failing at it.”
I am sure that the intentions of the author were to draw comparisons between Tess and Melissandre as mothers and women, to show that parental love can look like a lot of different things but still be just as strong and real. But it just didn’t work. There was just too much of Tess the Mother and not nearly enough of Tess the PI.
The documentary snippets were a nice touch, however. I’d like to see more of Harmony (the filmmaker) in future books.
Finally, “murder police” is a very weird phrase, and Laura Lippman’s books are the only place I’ve ever seen it. Is it a Baltimore thing?
The Nerd’s Rating: Two Happy Neurons, and a glass of “mommy juice”. Or three.