"My name is Theresa Esther Monaghan. In childhood, I was Tesser or Tester, sometimes Testy. At home, I was Theresa Esther. Now I am just Tess. I wonder sometimes if my name will get shorter still and if I will be one of those women who age by throwing off weight, retreating into their bones. . . . [At the age of 29], my life is still defined by what I am not, what I don't have. . . . Not: married. Not: a newspaper reporter, which all I could imagine being once. Not: successful."
From the first draft of Baltimore Blues, circa December 1992.
Theresa Esther Weinstein Monaghan was born in August in a year that must remain vague because she is aging at a different rate than most mortals. She was 29 when introduced in Baltimore Blues and is in her early 30s by the eighth book, By a Spider's Thread.
The daughter of a city liquor board inspector and a clerk at NSA, Tess grew up in Baltimore's Ten Hills neighborhood and attended city public schools. She then went to Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, where she majored in English and rowed crew with Whitney Talbot, a far more privileged Baltimore girl who transferred to Yale but remained Tess's friend. Tess landed a job at the Baltimore Star right out of college, but the newspaper folded three years later and she failed to get a job at Baltimore's surviving newspaper, the Beacon-Light. For several years, she survived by taking on freelance writing gigs and working in her aunt's bookstore, until a friend's arrest prompted Tess to try her hand at being a private investigator. Initially green and amateurish, she has slowly built up her own business, Keys Investigations, and now works in Baltimore's Butchers Hill neighborhood. She lives in Baltimore's Roland Park, in a bungalow on a hard-to-find street. She has two dogs, a greyhound and a Doberman, both acquired accidentally.
Although an only child, Tess has an embarrassment of family; her father, Patrick, had three brothers and one sister, while her mother, Judith, has six older brothers. Her mother's father once owned a drug store, but ended up in bankruptcy. Her brother, Donald, worked for a state senator who was indicted, which killed Donald's political career but not his contacts. For almost thirty years now, he has been wandering through various state jobs with a scowl and a clipboard, not because he's angry, but because it makes it look as if he's working hard. Her father's only sister, Kitty, owns a bookstore, Women and Children First, which is based in the flagship store of Poppa Weinstein's old drugstore.
Tess has been called the hungriest PI in fiction and the list of Baltimore restaurants that she loves is long and varied -- the Brass Elephant, the Helmand, the Owl Bar, the Ambassador, the Black Olive, Sotto Sopra, Café Zen, Charleston, Marconi's, and the Utz potato chip counter in Cross Street Market, to name just a few. If she wasn't allergic to shellfish, she would eat crabs at the Costas Inn. As a native Baltimorean, she simply cannot imagine living anywhere else.