December 02, 2002 12:00 PM

by Laura Lippman

Tess Monaghan, private investigator, is back. Not that her fans have had time to miss her: This is the strong-willed Baltimore investigator’s seventh appearance since 1997. This time around Tess is hired to review five unsolved, seemingly unrelated Maryland murder cases to see if the police missed anything.

For the first hundred pages Place practically groans with the effort of setting up the plot; as for dialogue, a detective actually says the words, “The doctor forgot that death doesn’t always make an appointment.” Still, Lippman hits her stride with a string of surprises in a suspenseful climax, though the investigation becomes almost ridiculously complex. A vacation might do Tess—and Lippman—a world of good. (Morrow, $23.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Slow start, strong finish

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