By Heidi Simmons
by Laura Lippman
It’s a strange and horrific phenomenon when mothers kill their kids. To think the nurturer, the heart and soul of a home could, would, deliberately murder her children rocks the fabric of the universe. Laura Lippman’s Hush Hush (William Morrow, 303 pages) reveals the challenges of parenting and the stress of raising human beings in her eleventh Tess Monaghan novel.
Former journalist turned P.I., Tess has been hired by her lawyer uncle-in-law to do a security job for Melisandre Harris Dawes, his infamous client who has returned to Baltimore after a decade of self-exile in Europe.
Melisandre claimed insanity after she locked her three-month-old baby girl in her car on a hot summer day and watched her die. There was a mistrial and the judge ordered her into treatment. She relinquished custody of her two living daughters, just four and seven years old at the time, to her then husband Stephen Dawes.
Beautiful, brilliant and super wealthy, Melisandre is making a documentary about her return and hopeful reunion with her now teen daughters. She is also receiving mysterious cryptic hate mail.
Daughters Alanna and Ruby argue with their father and stepmother about participating in the documentary. Mr. Dawes has remarried and the girls don’t get along with his new wife and they have a new baby brother. Everything starts to go crazy when the Melisandre comes back into their lives.
In the meantime, Tess struggles to be a good mother to her three-year-old daughter as she is constantly working security and investigation on the bizarre Dawes case. She also gets strange, antagonizing notes that attack her character as a mother, which forces Tess to reevaluate her responsibilities and doubt her motherly instincts.
When Mr. Dawes ends up dead, the case burns up the news and Tess seeks to solve the mystery of his murder. Street savvy and intuitive, Tess uncovers the killer and this time there will be no case for insanity.
This is the first of the series I’ve read and I liked the character of Tess Monaghan. She’s a regular gal, smart and sassy. She’s doing her best to be a good mom while working long hours on a stressful, dangerous job.
Tess and Crow, her boyfriend and father of her child, approach child rearing differently and she constantly wonders if she is cut out to be a mom. When Tess discovered she was pregnant, there wasn’t time to marry Crow and they never got around to it. But after the dust settles in the story, she and Crow finally tie the knot. Tess realizes she’s not such a bad mom after her experience with Melisandre.
There are several mysteries unfolding in Hush Hush. Author Lippman adds layers with every new chapter. She uses documentary transcripts, days and time stamps as different characters join in the narrative. The changing voices complicate the plot as the story builds.
I liked the teenage daughters Alanna and Ruby. Seeing reality through their young eyes was dramatic as they struggled to cope and understand their parents, themselves and their strange world.
Lippman writes with authority and insight when it comes to her female characters. The women are multifaceted and complex. Young and old, the ladies in this novel consider and question their role and place as women. They assert their power and discover their weaknesses.
Imbedded in Hush Hush are the challenges of motherhood. Several women, including Tess, debate the role, obligation and tools to do the job well. They wonder if they are equipped and question their own sanity. Are they bad people if they don’t want or like kids? Is it fair to give up your life for the one you brought into the world? Knowing the answer doesn’t make motherhood any easier.
In the end, the story becomes convoluted and the mysteries wear thin. The legalese of the insanity plea in the Dawes’ case is interesting at first, but doesn’t go anywhere or pay off. Lippman’s use of the transcripts is an exciting way to disseminate information, but stops in the first third and the day and time markers don’t add to the suspense.
But, P.I. Monaghan is a fun character. I got that her life hasn’t been easy and that she has worked hard for what she has without having read the other books in the series. I look forward to Tess’s next case and her life as a wife and mother. Let’s hope her maternal instincts are just as good as her investigative instincts.