BOOK REVIEW: ANOTHER THING TO FALL
Hollywood has come to Baltimore and everyone has an angle in Laura Lippman’s latest mystery novel to feature the private detective Tess Monaghan, Another Thing To Fall. I’ve only had the pleasure so far to read and review one other Lippman book, No Good Deeds, but I enjoyed it immensely. In this outing, Tess, while sculling (rowing) in her boat, inadvertently rows herself right into the middle of a scene that’s being shot for a TV series filming in Baltimore, Mann of Steel. When the choppy wake from a cinematic "police" motorboat hits her sideways and she is unceremoniously dunked into the Patapsco, instead of receiving an apology for what happened, a man in a second motorboat informs her:
"You just ruined a shot that we’ve been trying to get for three days."
Monaghan is offered the job by Flip Tumulty, the son of the famous filmmaker Philip Tumulty Sr., of both investigating the mysterious "accidents" that have been plaguing the TV set, such as small fires, and babysitting the incorrigible spoiled starlet, Selene Waites, who’d like to be let out of her contract in order to pursue movie offers. With her plate full of other jobs at the detective agency she owns, and not really relishing the idea of being a 24/7 babysitter, Tess is tempted to turn the job down. However, when Flip agrees to also employ Lloyd (introduced in No Good Deeds), the ward of her boyfriend Crow, Tess agrees to lend her skills to finding the culprit behind the seemingly jinxed scenes.
The harmless pranks escalate rapidly with the murder of Flip’s personal assistant, Greer. The police suspect she was beaten to death by her jealous fiancé, JJ Meyerhoff, especially when he tries to escape from them and is shot and killed by a policeman. But, Tess’s investigations show her that: "Based on public records, JJ was the white sheep of the family." A stalker has appeared to be after Selene, but could it be that he was really after Greer the whole time?
Another Thing To Fall takes its readers behind-the-scenes of an actual TV series, revealing the visual tricks and set politics that exist in real life. Laura Lippman writes from the personal experiences she’s gained from having a husband, David Simon, who’s the producer of HBO’s The Wire. A endearing hallmark of Laura Lippman’s novels are her many references to cultural, sprots, musical, and cinematic American icons scattered throughout. This book is no different in that respect, focusing on movie references ranging from the Malteste Falcon to the films of John Waters, such as Hairspray, which was shot in Baltimore.
Besides the youthful self-absorbed personality of Selene is the self-absorbed middle-aged Johnny Tampa, a teen heartthrob in his earlier career, who is attempting to make a come back. He has put on more than a few pounds, however, and his once famous jaw line has been sacrificed to the ravages of time. Selene’s career is on the ascendence, while Tampa’s is on the decline. Are their ambitions overweening enough, Tess wonders, for either of them to be involved in the troubles on the set, and possibly even murder? Or, was Greer killed by someone else, for a secret she jealously guarded, one that could earn her millions of dollars?
Blackmail, greed, jealousy, ambition, revenge--these are some of the major motives behind the rise and fall of individuals and of empires. They’re the elements of tragedies, and excellent murder mysteries, as well--which Another Thing To Fall is, another winner in Lippman’s series of Tess Monaghan books. But, she also has a wry sense of humor, as a counter balance, displayed here in her character of Mrs. Blossom, who is a student in a night class Tess is teaching. Mrs. Blossom’s efforts at shadowing Tess and her spying on Selene are comical, but also crucial to Tess’s unraveling of motives and solving the case.
Bottom line is, Another Thing To Fall is a page-turning entertaining novel that’s hard to put down and I predict it won’t "fall" from the lists of best selling books for a long time to come. It’s a novel I highly recommend, along with Laura’s other Tess Monaghan books, like the aforementioned No Good Deeds, and Charm City.
REVIEWED BY DOUGLAS R. COBB
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