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ANOTHER THING TO FALL
A Tess Monaghan Novel By Laura Lippman
William Morrow, 2008 ($24.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Baltimore private detective Tess Monaghan literally bumps into her latest case when her early morning sculling session interferes with the filming of an episode of the tv series Mann Of Steel. The camera crew drags her out of the chilly water, and while she’s waiting for her clothes to dry she lets slip her profession. The production has been having problems -- minor accidents, unpleasant incidences, annoying but not too major. Producer Flip Tumulty, son of a legendary filmmaker who was a home-grown Baltimore hero until he went Hollywood, asks Tess to be a bodyguard for one of the stars, young Selene Waites. She agrees only after he agrees to a ridiculous amount of money, and to hiring her boyfriend’s protégé, Lloyd.
Before Tess’s story begins, the reader is inside the head of a photographer, watching a young girl covertly, finally deciding she’s a little too old for his tastes. We know he’s not a nice man, and the secrets he’s keeping are very nasty indeed. His identity is not revealed until late in the story, after it turns out that just about everybody on the set is keeping secrets, some more dangerous than others. Flip’s assistant Greer is determined to reach the top, and she doesn’t care who she has to step on to get there. Selene plays the air-head artiste to perfection, but is she as dumb as she seems? Has-been actor Johnny Tampa, for whom this role might be a come-back, appears to be just a sad, paunchy reflection of the man Tess had a crush on when she was a teenager.
The Baltimore Film Commission had welcomed the production, but many of the citizens would just as soon have them go away. The trees were tampered with by the production crew. The portrayal in the show of a thriving steel industry in the city is a travesty, and the disgruntled and out-of-work steel workers show their disapproval loudly and physically. Selene seems to be more of a party girl than an actress, a fact that gives Tess major headaches when she tries to ride herd on her. Pretty soon Tess is wishing they’d all just go away as well.
When one of the staff is murdered, Tess gets involved in finding out who killed her and why. It’s all about those secrets, and it’s all interrelated. There’s a bit of comic relief when one of the students in Tess’s p.i. class, Mrs. Blossom, an endearing but clueless lady of a certain age and a certain size, turns out to have a real talent for surveillance. One positive thing comes out of the case. Young Lloyd, the former street punk who Tess’s live-in love Crow took under his wing, takes to the film world like a duck to water, giving him hope for the future. Working in this alternate reality is strange to Tess, though -- she is almost literally a fish out of water, observing the behavior of the film folks like a baffled anthropologist. It’s fun to watch Tess, the level-headed, down to earth detective, puzzle over how people can live this way.
There’s a lot to like about this book, great characters, clever plot, all the things I’ve come to expect from the talented Ms. Lippman.
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