Their success here is no big mystery

Achievers

October 09, 2005

There's something wonderfully mysterious about Baltimore. Edgar Allan Poe, America's first great mystery writer, lived, wrote and died here, and this richly diverse city on the bay has provided personalities and backdrops for dozens of great reads by masters of the genre.

Dashiell Hammett based two of his early novels on his experience working at the Baltimore branch of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Raymond Chandler mentions Baltimore in Farewell, My Lovely, and James M. Cain, who worked at the Baltimore News American, featured Baltimore in The Enchanted Isle.

Baltimore's current stars of mystery could hold their own against writers of any era, critics agree. Here are three that Baltimore readers love.

LAURA LIPPMAN

When Laura Lippman started writing Baltimore mysteries, she was a feature writer for The Baltimore Sun. The heroine of her tales was Tess Monaghan, a smart, tough and troubled former reporter turned private investigator who struggled in relationships while deftly solving crimes by following twists and turns that introduced readers to Baltimore's frequently eccentric institutions and inhabitants.

Readers quickly fell in love with Tess. Ten books and numerous awards later, Lippman is still going strong, having divorced The Sun and joined forces with David Simon, a former Sun police reporter and producer of the TV series The Wire. The couple live amicably independent lives in Federal Hill.

Lippman, who once told an interviewer that she began writing mysteries because they forced her to bring her stories to an end, is clearly in love with the genre these days. She has been an eager e-mail correspondent with her readers, speaks frequently about her craft at bookstores and in other venues and shares her thoughts on literature and life in a chatty blog.

SUJATA MASSEY

Sujata Massey has written a captivating series of mysteries featuring Rei Shimura, an Asian-American woman who in the first book of the series became involved in the investigation of the death of a wealthy Japanese businessman's wife.

Born in Sussex, England, to a father from India and a mother from Germany, Massey moved to the United States with her parents when she was 5. She grew up in Philadelphia, Berkeley, Calif., and St. Paul, Minn., making enough return trips to Europe and Asia to never completely feel American. She graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in 1986 and launched a relatively brief career as a feature writer for the Baltimore Evening Sun before marrying a Navy medical officer.

She lived in Japan, studying Japanese and writing fiction, in the early 1990s, returning to Baltimore in 1993. Her first novel, The Salaryman's Wife, was published in 1997.

Shimura, her protagonist, is an outsider in Japan who strives to fit in while exploring the world of Tokyo's gaijin, as foreigners are called. Massey spends about a month each year in Japan fact-checking her settings and learning more about police procedures and cultural trends.

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