Laura Lippman has won Edgar, Shamus, Agatha and Anthony awards for her Tess Monaghan crime series, the latest of which is No Good Deeds.

At once aspiring and decaying, Main Street U.S.A. and urban melting pot, "Smalltimore" emerges vividly in No Good Deeds. Was Baltimore the story's inspiration?

I started writing the Tess Monaghan books in part because I'm fascinated by my hometown. Because I live, work and volunteer here, I'm aware of the changes Baltimore is going through. I don't think most residents imagined the current influx of glossy hotels, condos and lofts around the water. That said, I'm part of the problem, too, someone who has moved into an old working-class neighborhood that is now almost completely gentrified.

The story includes plenty of drama, but also touches on national issues recently in the news, including abuses of government power, the sanctity (or not) of anonymous sources and the growing bottom-line corporate pressure on news media. Was this topicality intentional?

I'm not the kind of writer who can usually plot "ahead of the curve" so that their books suddenly feel timely when they appear, but my paranoia seemed to align neatly with current events this time out. I started plotting this book in November 2004, with no agenda greater than showing how powerfully the government can squeeze people even without the Patriot Act.

You write both the Tess Monaghan series and stand-alone mysteries for William Morrow. How did that develop?

Tess is like an utterly satisfactory imaginary friend in whose company I'm never bored. I just had an idea I felt very passionate about that wouldn't work for her. I was lucky to have the full support of everyone at Morrow for what became Every Secret Thing, and I later decided to alternate the two kinds of books. The stand-alone mysteries, along with short stories, function as a kind of literary cross-training for the series.

Like No Good Deeds, your stand-alone mysteries have a timely edge.

I often work from stories in the news, though I have an uneasy relationship with the phrase "ripped from the headlines." Mainly, I'm interested in how we live now: what kind of cars people drive, what technology they use, what they worry about. To the Power of Three distilled a lot of things I had heard about the college admissions process. By a Spider's Thread is a novel about divorce, and if most divorces don't involve murder and double-dealing and long-buried secrets, well, they can definitely feel that way.