In which Tess Monghan learns she’s white, and that there are Black people in Baltimore.
So in this book the lead character, Tess, Monaghan, officially opens up her shop in the central Baltimore neighbor hood of Butchers Hill, named not for the butchering of people, we soon learn, but for the old practice of butchers living there. Her first two cases are finding the children who were witnesses to a famous murder/manslaughter from five years earlier in which an older Black man was charged with the death of 11 year old he caught breaking into/messing with his car. The man, now out of jail and independently wealthy, would like Tess to find the kids who witnessed the shooting in order to set up a kind of blind trust/trust fund for them in the sense of paying off his debts to the world. The second case involves a Black woman a few years older than Tess (but not much older) looking to track down her younger sister who has more or less disappeared.
As happens with a lot of novels, the two cases are thematically connected — Black children in foster care falling through the cracks of society. But they also deal with white Baltimore’s uncomfortable and poorly defined connection to Black Baltimore and the ways in which that relationship creates gaps and a cracks. It also allows the novel to address some of Tess’s own sense of the world, and provides the novel to do some character building.
In Big Trouble
As it turns out in a lot cases, if your friend is a mystery series’s private investigator or lead detective, run. Be with them long enough and you’ll either be murdered or charged with murder. It’s just how these things go.
Tess receives a cryptic message from Crow, her older ex we meet and come to know in the first two books, and completely absent in book two. He’s now living in Austin TX and trying to make it as a musician. The message she gets says “In Big Trouble”. When Tess contacts his parents, it turns out they haven’t heard much of him in recent months either and they hire Tess to go Austin to track him down and do a kind of welfare check. She quickly realizes that she’s in over her head emotionally and physically, as she doesn’t have much information to work with, she’s not licensed in the state of Texas, and small town America is a deeply scary and violent place. She finds Crow, now in a few different bands and meets the woman he’s enmeshed with. Not clear who she owes allegiance to –him or his parents– Tess spends the next few days sorting out the story, the case, and her own feelings.
This book feels like a side step in a way, and only because we’re four or so deep into the series does it work to have Tess leave the place she’s most based in, familiar with, and defined by. But it makes me wonder where we’re headed in the series if we’re already taking vacations by book four, especially given these come out pretty frequently, there’s more than 12 of them, and they’re not very long.