Sassy, Irish-Jewish PI Tess Monaghan, protagonist of Laura Lippman's popular series, returns in the suspenseful By a Spider's Thread. This time out, Tess takes on a referral from her Uncle Donald (of the Weinstein side of the family) and finds herself getting in touch with her Jewish side. Hired by Mark Rubin, a devout Orthodox Jew, to find his wife and three children, Tess spars with tradition, treachery and of course Tyner, her former employer and soon-to-be uncle-in-law. She works this case without help from any of her usual companions: boyfriend Crow, former roommate Whitney, former client-now-friend, Jackie. However, ex-nemesis Gretchen O'Brien reappears as the leader of a whole new web of support for Tess and other women PIs. Rubin's penchant for privacy and naivetÅ½ regarding his wife and the state of his marriage make for an initially unsympathetic client. His oldest son, Isaac, however, instantly wins our hearts as a scrapper an instinctive survivalist. Without his beloved books to keep him company, Isaac spends his time concocting new ways to escape, or at least contact his father. Through him, we see a softer side of Mark, that of a father who wishes "first and foremost that you would be a virtuous man" but who also uses Advanced Mission Battleship to teach his son that he need not be the smartest one to win.
Trapped with a mother not acting herself and a man posing as his father who clearly considers him a threat, Isaac reminds us of both the resilience of children and their sometimes overlooked maturity beyond their years.
With her usual bullheadedness, Tess bends rules, interferes where she's not welcome and experiences a handful of near-death experiences. In the process, she attains a new level of self-perspection, and takes what fans might hope is a first step in the right direction. Acclaimed author Lippman knows how to keep the reader guessing: the only thing we know for certain is that in this case, the butler didn't do it. Like Tess, Sheri Swanson has a grandmother Weinstein.