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Hush, Hush, by Laura Lippman. 303 pages. William Morrow, $14.99

In Hush, Hush Laura Lippman brings back former-journalist-turned-sleuth Tess Monaghan after a three-year hiatus.

During this time, the author gave birth to her first child, a daughter, at the age of fifty one; so perhaps for this reason the challenges of motherhood are central to the plot.  

Milisandre Harris Dawes is the main character. A former attorney, she is also a woman guilty of having killed her baby by watching her die in a hot car. Acquitted twice under grounds of post-partum psychosis, Dawes left the country, hoping to escape the furor of her conviction in the press.

Fast forward a decade. Harris Dawes returns to Baltimore and refuses to be made a victim or villain. Rich, arrogant, and determined, she believes that she can set the record straight. Having a documentary made about her story, will, she thinks, soften public opinion and help her to regain custody of her now-teen-aged-daughters.

Monaghan is hired to offer protection to Harris Dawes during the production; therefore, readers are able to weigh, with the private investigator, the level of the woman’s culpability in the baby's death.  

The plot thickens as there's another death--accidental or not--associated with Harris Dawes’ family, and both women begin to receive threatening notes.

When readers meet Monaghan, she is struggling with the raising of a head-strong toddler, Carla Scout, and so understands the strains that might have pushed Harris Dawes to the brink. Here is a scene from Monaghan’s mommy scrapbook:

The books said to ignore tantrums or remove the child promptly. They said other things, too, but Tess tended to forget what they were when she was in this situation . . . . She was frozen, watching her toddler thrash it out in a high-traffic area, blocking anyone who wanted liquor, beer, wine, and snacks. And it was Friday at Eddie's. Everyone wanted liquor, beer, wine and snacks. Including Tess. TGIF. In her life it was more like FMIF—f*** me, it's Friday....Tess crouched down and said, in what she hoped was a persuasively no nonsense voice:  Carla Scout, I'm going to count you down and if your can't calm down, you'll be going into Quiet Time. Right here, in the store. One. . .Two. . .Three. . . .

Readers who have experienced the toddler melt-down in a public place know this is not one of parenting's finer moments. In moments like this, Monaghan seems to understand Harris Dawes, perhaps to a worrisome degree.

Readers new to Lippman may wonder whether it is possible to enjoy fully reading a novel that is one of a continuing series, and there is little doubt that readers who have followed along with the developing character will get the fullest enjoyment of the book. However, this is a mystery for all to enjoy—and to solve.

Lippmann shifts point of view between half a dozen characters--Monaghan, Harris Dawes, her daughters, the filmographer—perhaps a few too many for sustained development, but Lippman is at her undisputed best in serio-comic scenes that describe domestic life with a mate and parenting-partner and a young child. Happily there's good balance between those and those that develop the always unlikable Harris Dawes.  

Reviewed by Sharon Buzzard

Sharon Buzzard is an associate professor of English at University of Missouri-Columbia where she also directs a cross-disciplinary writing first year writing program serving 2500 students.