Book review: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

If Laura Lippman's army of fans feared that motherhood might blunt the razor-sharp edge of her hard-hitting crime novels, then her new Tess Monaghan thriller is guaranteed to silence the doubters.
Hush Hush byLaura LippmanHush Hush byLaura Lippman
Hush Hush byLaura Lippman

In fact, Lippman has drawn on her own experiences of parenting for this dynamic return to the teeming streets of Baltimore which sees her charismatic and long-serving private investigator tackling a dark and devastating family-based mystery.

It is over three years since we last caught up with Tess Monaghan and, like Lippman, the PI is now a mother, her three-year-old daughter Carla Scout taking a central role in her life, along with new work partner, ex-cop Sandy Sanchez, and her long-time boyfriend Crow.

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The trials and tribulations of combining work and motherhood, and the psychological havoc wreaked on children by destructive parents, are all explored in Hush Hush, a clever, compelling mystery which grips with both its emotional power and its ingenious plotting.

Twelve years ago, beautiful wealthy lawyer Melisandre Harris Dawes drove to the shores of the Patapsco River on a searing hot afternoon, parked in the sun and then sat on a patch of grass while her baby daughter Isadora cooked to death inside the car.

Melisandre escaped jail on the grounds of temporary insanity as a result of postpartum depression, but the notorious tragedy has had repercussions for her other two daughters, Alanna and Ruby, now aged 15 and 17 and living with their father, stepmother and new baby brother.

Melisandre walked out on the family after the court case and has been living abroad but now she is back in Baltimore, eager to see her daughters again and in the process of making a TV documentary which uses her high-profile case to explore all facets of the criminal insanity plea.

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Tess, currently juggling work and care of her young daughter, has been hired to ensure Melisandre’s security but finds it hard to get her head round taking care of a woman who could watch her own child die. ‘Can the sane understand the crazy?’

Soon both Tess and the manipulative, unnerving Melisandre, who is determined to win back custody of her daughters, are receiving disturbing letters from a stalker, and then events take a violent and deadly turn.

Discovering the truth of what really did happen all that time ago, and what role each member of this unhappy family played, has never been more important…

Hush Hush proves as absorbing as any story to come from the pen of former journalist Lippman whose consummate writing skills, innate sensitivity and inside knowledge of the media, the law and crime investigation procedures have made her award-winning books almost instant bestsellers.

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The author’s own parental insights add depth and pathos to a story brimming with intrigue and subtle flashes of menace, whilst the multi-perspective narrative gives us a fascinating glimpse into the fallout from shocking events in the past.

Welcome back Tess Monaghan… you’ve been sorely missed!

(Faber, paperback, £7.99)