Laura Lippman, best known for her Tess Monaghan PI series, sets her new stand-alone, The Most Dangerous Thing, in Dickeyville, the Baltimore neighborhood where she grew up.
You say this is your most autobiographical novel in terms of geography. Why now?
I've wanted to write a novel about where I grew up since the day I started writing novels. I made a decision early on not to make Tess Monaghan be from Dickeyville because I wanted to create a character who wouldn't be confused with me. This story came from a very simple idea about friends with a secret. But as the idea was fleshed out, I thought, "This is it, this is when I'm going to write about Dickeyville."
What about the wild versus the tame theme running through the book?
I was part of a generation where kids had a lot of freedom and aimless downtime. I had no scheduled after-school activities. As long as you came home for dinner, everything was fine. I had a great childhood, and I liked all the freedom I had, but, as I hope the book makes clear, there's a dark side to that, too.
You kill Go-Go, a major character, in the opening pages. Was this your intent from the beginning?
This was always the opening chapter. I knew it was a risk. There are readers who will find it impossible to get invested in Go-Go because he's dead. I love crime fiction and I'm proud to be part of it, but I'm not without criticism for my own genre. I hate books that start with this awful, sadistic murder just to get the adrenaline flowing. Maybe to my detriment—and maybe to the detriment of my sales—I've never wanted people to feel good at the end of my novels. If you're writing a novel in which someone has died violently, to try and bring readers into a safe harbor where everything is fine again is wrong. Murder changes everything. Or it should.
Did you always plan for Tess Monaghan to make a cameo appearance?
No, for some reason I thought the character would be an unsavory private detective.
Will Tess be returning in her own series anytime soon?
I'm having trouble getting back to the Tess Monaghan books because I have to write about Tess as a mom. It's going to be tough, and I haven't sorted it out yet. It's not something I'm going to be glib or casual about, writing a PI novel about a woman with a young child. I have to respect the fact that it does change everything.