Lippman, Laura. Charm City.

NY: Avon, 1997.

This was the author’s second novel, and the second featuring Baltimore native Tess Monaghan, who was an up-and-coming newspaper reporter until two years ago, when the paper was sold and she was laid off, along with nearly all the rest of the existing staff.

Now the Beacon-Light, known not very affectionately as the “Blight,” has a bunch of new editors, brought in from outside, some of whom don’t really know very much about Baltimore.

Tess has been doing work for various family members while living over her aunt’s bookstore, but at the end of the last book, she had become an investigator/researcher/gopher for an attorney who is encouraging her to go after a PI license. Her investigative reporter’s instincts seem to apply just as well. Meanwhile, “Wink” Winkowski, dynamic local entrepreneur with a questionable past, is set on bringing an NBA franchise to Baltimore, with the city and the state footing much of the bill (as they are wont to do there, the author reminds us). A couple of local reporters turn up some nasty things about Wink’s past as well as his present habits and they write a story that could sink any chances of that franchise. The editors spike the story — but it appears in the next Sunday edition anyway, entirely without authorization. That sort of security breach could be very expensive for the paper if Wynkowsky sues, and so Tess is brought in to find out who got round the paper’s security system. Meanwhile, her Uncle Spike, who runs both a tavern out in the county and a small sports book, and who had just acquired a retired racing greyhound, is beaten into a coma by Bad Guys unknown. Tess is looking after the dog while Spike is in the hospital, and she’d like some answers in this matter, too.

That’s the set-up, but Tess will have her hands full as first one major player in the story apparently commits suicide, and then another follows. And of course, there’s her personal life, which is always complicated. And her touchy relationship with several higher-ups at the paper raises other questions. And then there are Wink’s two wives, past and present.

The first book was pretty good but was a bit tentative in places, as one would almost expect from a first novel. This one is much smoother in the writing, much fuller in characterization (including Baltimore itself as a character), and very complex in the plotting. It definitely has me hooked on the series, of which there are now about a dozen volumes.


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