Laura Lippman,
By a Spider's Thread
(Avon, 2005)

In many of the novels in her Tess Monaghan series, Laura Lippman tries a different approach. One is told from Crow's point of view, one is set in Texas instead of Baltimore, etc. In By a Spider's Thread, she uses multiple points of view. When one of these POVs is the scheming bad guy, this creates a problem because the bad guy obviously knows his entire scheme from the beginning, but he only doles it out to the reader (or, rather, Lippman doles it out) in bits and pieces so the reader remains in what's-next anticipation. This gives readers too much of a sense of the author's hand. It's better when it's told only from Monaghan's POV, and I believe this novel could have been entirely written that way.

By halfway through this novel it's pretty clear what everyone's motives are and why they are doing what they are doing. The only question is how it's going to play out. The ending poses a classic How Will They Escape from the Death Trap? scenario, and that's where Lippman absolutely nails it. I did not see it coming, even though I should have because it fit perfectly.

By the way, I liked Isaac. That's one plucky kid. The Judaism bits were interesting. Mark, though, seemed more like a construct than a real person. The portrait of the ex-con carpenter living with his shame touched me.

All in all, this is a good but not great Tess effort. It's still true that Lippman's stand-alones are her true masterpieces, expecially What the Dead Know.

review by
Dave Sturm

20 March 2010

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