Wednesday, July 7, 2010

By a Spider's Thread Describes a Wounded Tess and the World of Orthodox Judaism

An Orthodox Jewish woman goes missing, her three children in tow. Soon, Tess Monaghan is on the case, hired by the woman's furrier husband. Very conscious about both his business image and his religious beliefs, Mark Ruben refuses to pursue divorce -- the only option which would allow him to fight for custody of his children and spur law enforcement into action. Despite evidence to the contrary, he refuses to believe his wife left him willingly. Rather, he maintains the belief that she has fled under duress. The police see no signs of foul play, and no charges are filed. Enter Tess, whose online network of female private investigators across the country proves handy in the search for the missing Natalie, son Isaac, and the couple's twins.

I've read several of Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan novels. By a Spider's Thread is another winning entry in this Baltimore-area series. Lippman provides readers with details of Tess's life, especially regarding her relationship with the now-absent Crow, but also manages to create an almost-stand-alone novel, as well. Large sections of the prose are dedicated to Isaac, the Rubens' older son. He longs for his father and despises his mother's partner-in-crime, Zeke. Through narration focused on him, the reader is a spectator not only for Tess's investigation, but also for the missing family's actions. As Mark Ruben describes his wife to Tess, the reader has already been introduced to Natalie and is therefore privy to some of her less-than-savory characteristics.

Lippman handles the world of Orthodox Judaism with great skill, describing holidays and practices which might be foreign to some readers. She also delves into the prison system, looking at both the positive influence of outside charitable groups, as well as the dark criminal breeding grounds prisons often become.

The audiobook version of this novel was read by a female narrator with a pleasant voice filled with (appropriate, not over-the-top) emotion. It was a pleasure both to listen to her and to return momentarily to Tess's world.

Lippman is the author of ten Tess Monaghan novels, of which By a Spider's Thread is the eighth. She has also written several stand-alone novels which have earned much acclaim. While a wonderful writer, she is a bit of an odd bird, as you might discover by trying to read her biography on her own website. Her husband David Simon is the creator and executive producer of the award-winning Baltimore-area HBO series The Wire. Many consider it one of the best shows in the history of television. I'm not sure about that, but it definitely makes sense to me that Lippman and the show's creator are husband and wife.

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