Tess Monaghan’s roots are in Baltimore, where she grew up in one of the blue collar neighborhoods. As a P.I., she has traversed most of the neighborhoods and is familiar with their history. She and her father are close, almost like pals, so when he asks for a favor, she obliges. An old friend of his, Ruthie Denbrow, wants to know why her brother Henry was killed in his early weeks in prison after confessing to a crime.

The crime, referred to as a Jane Doe murder, because the victim’s identity has never been found, seems fairly straightforward: find out who she was, and the answers will follow.

The Sugar House: A Tess Monaghan Mystery is not just a mystery, but a story of a city. Its culture, the politics, the corruption: all figure into the mystery, and in the end, more lives will be lost and more danger will loom, but Tess is courageous, determined, and even when her father tells her to stop, she won’t. She can’t. That’s who she is. While there is an actual Sugar House in the story, an old Domino Sugar company, its neon sign protectively guarding a mountain of sugar, Tess’s quest takes her to other versions of a Sugar House: places that look sweet and safe, but only from the outside.

Why is someone trying to hide the victim’s identity? After more than a year, why has there been no clue as to who she was? And when Tess finally figures it out, the mystery is even deeper, as the answer only leads to more questions. Who is trying to bury something deep and dark, and is willing to keep killing to hide their secrets forever?

A real page-turner, my favorite parts were the descriptions of the neighborhoods, the characters, and how they all came together to create a cozy world for Tess, even as the dangers mounted. I have read one other book in this series, but now I want to know more. Especially since Tess seems like a friend now, and I want to visit her world again. The ending came together a bit too easily, in my opinion, but it was still a satisfying read. Four stars.


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