Review of “By a Spider’s Thread” by Laura Lippman

This is the eighth book in the Tess Monaghan detective series, and rather anomalous. The emphasis in this book is not on Tess, now 33, although she of course plays a (minor) role. Rather, it is on her client, Mark Rubin, and his life as an Orthodox Jew: what does it mean to live in this fashion? I would classify this as a “social” crime novel.

Rubin comes to Tess requesting that she find his wife and three children, who have disappeared. The police have determined there was no foul play, and thus will not take on the case. But Rubin can’t believe his wife would have left him voluntarily; he wants to find out what really happened.

Much of the story concerns Tess’s efforts to understand the insulated community of her client’s world, so that she can ascertain what may or may not have happened. She also sees it as a chance to find out information about her own background: Theresa Esther Weinstein Monaghan is half Jewish and half Irish Catholic, but without any real knowledge of either heritage. Now, she has the opportunity to find out more.

Interspersed with Mark’s story, we follow that of his wife Natalie (formerly Natasha) and her three children, as they go on a journey with consequences they have not anticipated. In particular, we get to know Isaac, the oldest son, who is brave and loyal and smart enough to provide lots of unwitting assistance to Tess and Mark.

Discussion: Tess goes through a number of reactions in this book. At first, she is hostile toward this orthodox man, finding him harsh and rigid. As they get more comfortable with one another and let down their defenses, they discover that they can actually accept and even like each other. It’s a lovely minuet.

Lippman also nicely blends in one of the characters, Police Detective Nancy Porter, from her standalone novel, Every Single Thing. It’s a fun touch for readers who have been following her books in order.

In this book too, Tess for the first time taps into the new national internet-driven network of female investigators called SnoopSisters. Set up by Gretchen O’Brien, a character from a previous book, this network provides indispensable help for Tess in locating Natalie. Lippman includes the emails of this group as part of the text, providing a fun look at the interactions of these women.

Evaluation: This novel has a great deal of insight to offer into a number of aspects of different cultures about which the reader may be unaware. Although we don’t spend much time examining Tess and her life, we gain a lot in the trade.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by William Morrow, 2004


Anthony Award Nominee for Best Novel (2005)
Agatha Award Nominee for Best Novel (2004)
Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel (2005)

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17 Responses to Review of “By a Spider’s Thread” by Laura Lippman

  1. I have a couple of Lippman’s other books on my shelves to read! Sounds good!

    Book Dilettante

  2. I think it is clever, in a series like this, to shift the focus from time to time. And this sounds interesting.

    • She shifts focus a lot. It’s almost like she has a blog and we hear about what is now interesting her, in the context of her usual set of characters. I really like that about her books!

  3. Barbara says:

    I intend to go back and read this series in order. I have the inspiration but not the time right now because of other commitments. Looking forward to it though.

  4. Heidi says:

    I haven’t read Lippman, but she is on my list. I’d like to read them all in order, but this one sounds really good.

  5. zibilee says:

    Oh, this one sounds really good to me, even though it focuses less on Tess. I admire you for making the commitment to stick it out through this whole series, but as I can see from your reviews, it doesn’t seem like it’s all that much of a hardship! I hope that you continue to enjoy these books, and I look forward to the reviews!

  6. I really want to get to this series. I’ve been thinking I’ll start it as my summer reading. Have you listened to any of her books? I’m wondering if that’s the way to go.

    • I have not listened to any of them. I’m afraid of listening to fiction in the car because I get so absorbed, and I don’t know how it would affect my driving! :–)

  7. Julie P. says:

    I think I just picked this one up in the free bin at our local library!

  8. Kay says:

    Wow, Jill, are you reading these Tess books back to back? You’re really moving through them at fast clip. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying them for the most part. I love that feeling when you know you can move right on into the next book in the series. 🙂

  9. BermudaOnion says:

    I actually enjoy books like this that explore different cultures through a mystery.

  10. Margot says:

    I like the way you are working your way right through this series. This one sounds unique and I look forward to getting to it one of these days.

  11. 3.5 is good enough for me…I’m excited that these are still solid reads even at book 8!!!

  12. Sandy says:

    A “lovely minuet”? That is a lovely description. I love departures in series, and I love it when visitors come from other books. It is easy to be a series whore when the series do so much to keep our attention! Hee hee

  13. Trisha says:

    I still haven’t read Lippman despite an awesome blogger sending me one of her books to read. Once I get through some of the series I am currently in the middle of, I may have to start this one!

  14. stacybuckeye says:

    I read a series because I like the main characters and want to continue on in their world but sometimes it keeps a series fresh to take a break. I will get to this series (she says with a sigh, knowing it will be along time coming).

  15. Pingback: By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman | Word Lily

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