Baltimore P.I. Tess Monaghan muses over the death of young federal prosecutor Gregory Youssef. Youssef's murder, after the initial media uproar, has been mysteriously missing from the news. Oddly, no one appears to want to solve the mystery of his killing. This intrigues Tess, especially since she knows pertinent details about the case: a certain ATM withdrawal, multiple stab wounds, the murdered man's presence in an area frequented by male prostitutes. Tess suspects the hush-up isn't only out of respect for Youssef's widow.
To her displeasure, Tess's soft-hearted boyfriend Crow brings home a street teen named Lloyd Jupiter. When Lloyd happens to see Youssef's photo among Tess's paperwork, he obviously does not recognize Youssef. But when he hears the murdered man's name, it's clear to Tess that Lloyd is terrified. Yet he deflects her questions.
Prosecutor Gabe Dalesio is also puzzled by Youssef's death. One aspect, concerning the dead man's toll E-Z Pass, particularly bothers him. When he brings it to the attention of DEA agent Mike Collins, Collins insults Gabe. Later, Collins discusses the incident with the FBI liaison for the Youssef case, Barry Jenkins. Collins and Jenkins are concerned about anyone poking around in the murder case.
Lloyd repays Crow and Tess's hospitality by stealing from them --- or attempting to. Instead, a drunken neighbor broadsides the car he's trying to take. Lloyd escapes from the scene, and Crow refuses to press charges. Tess decides she should blackmail Lloyd into spilling what he knows about Youssef by threatening legal action. But in order to find the boy, she must entice him into a trap.
After hearing Lloyd's story, Tess sets up a situation where the federal authorities will get the information he shares without endangering himself: she gives the story to the local newspaper under the condition that his name and her own will not be given.
Before Tess knows it, her name is in the newspaper --- and she is being harassed by federal investigators desperate to know who her mysterious source is. Tess will not divulge Lloyd's identity under any circumstances. However, as time goes by, the law enforcement agents become more determined and more aggressive, threatening Tess with imprisonment and insinuating that her family may also be in legal difficulties unless she cooperates. As it happens, the law is not the only entity interested in Lloyd. One man wants the mysterious source eliminated; he accidentally has the wrong boy killed, driving home the danger Lloyd is in.
While Crow hides out with Lloyd --- a bit of a challenge in itself given their different interests and lifestyles --- Tess discovers a secret about her boyfriend, which leaves her bewildered. She thought she knew Crow. Was she wrong? Tess comes to believe that we all hunger for the truth; simultaneously we're frightened of it.
In this ninth book of Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series, the suspense builds to a pleasurably uncomfortable level, making it a true page-turner. The multi-layered story is told from the viewpoint of several characters, who themselves are complex and believable; the setting of Baltimore is a vibrant and essential element. This engrossing thriller is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on July 1, 2006