Second in the Tess Monaghan mystery series set in Baltimore, Maryland and revolving around a former journalist turned private detective.
The primary theme is one of betrayal. Betrayal of one’s ethics and of friends. Using and manipulating friends to help is one thing; doing it to achieve one’s personal goals is another.
A preponderance of the latter weighs very heavily in Charm City from a battering of journalistic ethics, making that career leap, destruction of lives to maintain past secrets, and hiding one’s primal enjoyment of the kill. Most of which can be traced to one man’s pride.
Lippman keeps the action moving forward as Tess tells the story with some of my guesses teetering wildly in the wrong directions, some slowly drilling down in the right ones.
Even with Lippman’s improvement in this story, I still find myself cheering Crow’s response to Tess at the end.
Tess isn’t exactly burning up the streets hunting down business as a private detective so Whitney and Tyner team up to get her a gig with the Beacon-Light discovering who slipped a not-yet okayed article onto the front page. And in so doing, Tess uncovers a ruthless killer.
Then there’s Uncle Spike in his coma with some nasty men after something he has…and think that Tess is keeping for him. One clue with which Crow bonds. Not the only bond that disappoints Crow even as Tess herself is betrayed.
Tess Mongahan rows for the fun of it and is a journalist who just can’t find a job and instead finds herself utilizing those reporting skills as a detective even more so when Esskay enters her life. She still lives above her Aunt Kitty’s bookstore, Women and Children First, but only Crow still works for Kitty even if he’s in love with Tess now. Whitney Talbot and Kevin Feeney are both journalists with the former her best friend and the other simply a friend. The last three get a wake-up call in Charm City. Tyner Gray is a wheelchair-bound lawyer who won an Olympic silver in rowing and now provides Tess with encouragement in both her new profession and her training along with office space.
Uncle Spike and Tommy, his bus boy, play to a sub plot in this one when Uncle Spike gets beaten into a coma and entrusts his new dog, a rescued greyhound, with Tess. Durban Knox’s boxing gym is where Tess goes to train; as Spike’s niece, she’s protected, she thought. Rock has a cameo role in this one.
The Beacon Light’s editors include Jack Sterling, Colleen Reganhart, Lionel “Lyin’ Lionel” C. Mabry, and Randall Pfieffer IV, a.k.a., Five-Four, the publisher. Dorie Starnes is the paper’s computer guru with her own agenda. The subject of the article, Gerard “Wink” Wynkowski, had such a promising life until Rosita Ruiz came on scene and used various ways and means to destroy it. Linda Stolley Wynkowski is his first wife who sheds a completely different light on Wink while Lea Wynkowski appears to be the only one with a real handle on him and his history. Paul Tucci is a scion of one of Baltimore’s most important families who picks up the NBA cause even as he has his own secrets to hide.
The cover has a certain charm to it with its row of identical houses viewed in perspective although I think a color other than mustard yellow would have been more charming. As for the title, Charm City is a nickname for Baltimore around which everything and everyone revolves.