My latest review is of The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Baltimore-based crime novelist Laura Lippman. This was my first foray into Lippman’s substantial oeuvre, and I was intrigued not only by her headstrong female PI, Tess Monaghan, but also the fact that the whole of the novella was serialized by The New York Times Magazine. This, I think, is completely delightful–the serialized novel was once a very popular form, particularly in the Victorian era, and I love the idea of returning to a gradually building narrative each week or month, like waiting for a new episode of your favorite TV show. And given our culture’s flagging attention spans and general enjoyment of serial narratives, it seems like an ideal format for contemporary readers to embrace again. Also, what fun for the author.
Fun is the word on Lippman’s Raincoat–it’s an unabashed take off of Rear Window, which is admitted outright by one of the characters in an early sequence. Lippman also happily drew inspiration from a variety of other sources, including, among other things, Daughter of Time by Scotland’s turn of the century crime queen Josephine Tey. Says Lippman in her afterword, “Never Steal Anything Small,”
“T.S. Eliot said that immature poets imitate, mature poets steal. By that standard, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is felony larceny by an unrepentant recidivist. I stole my sister’s idea, I stole from the aforementioned Rear Window and The Daughter of Time, I stole my aunt Judy’s dog, Gabriel, to create the high-strung but loyal Dempsey. I stole from the casework for Detective Gary Childs, who did, in fact, come face-to-face with a modern-day Bluebeard. I even stole from Chekhov. Take his famous edict about a rifle on the wall, substitute “greyhound/bedpan” for rifle, and you have the framework of The Girl in the Green Raincoat.”
On the strength of this late entry in the Tess Monaghan chronicles, I plan to go back and start with the beginning of the series, Baltimore Blues, very soon. Also, since it is abundantly and repeatedly clear to me that Baltimorians have the sort of rabid love and fixation with their city which I’ve heretofore only ascribed to New Yorkers, I might have to make a trip to Lippman’s beloved burg sometime soon.
My review of The Girl with the Green Raincoat was published on the website of Reviewing the Evidence. Read it here, or the full text is below.
Originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine in 2008, Laura Lippman’s The Girl with the Green Raincoat takes a playful cue from Rear Window as its intrepid private eye, Tess Monaghan, finds herself subjected to two months of bed rest at the end of her pregnancy. Forced to endure a strictly healthful diet, minimal movement, and constant blood pressure readings, Tess quickly grows bored watching old movies and rereading her favorite novels, but takes some solace watching the comings and goings of the dog walkers and pets that frequent the park across the street from her home. One pair in particular catch her eye: a young woman in a striking green coat and her Italian greyhound who is decked out in a matching ensemble. When the woman disappears, ostensibly abandoning her dog in the park, Tess suspects that she may have been the victim of violence. And although her best friend, fiance, and plucky buisiness manager, Mrs. Blossom, doubt Tess’ suspicions, they agree eagerly enough to placate the whims of a bedridden mother-to-be and help her run down leads and interview suspects.
As her vicarious investigation progresses, Tess and Co. not only become the somewhat unwilling custodians of the abandoned dog—a fierce little beast with a fear of the dark and a penchant for antique chamber pots—they also locate the husband of the missing woman, a man whose wives (three previous) seem to have an unusually high mortality rate.
This is a simple, fun story done very well—the type of story one reads in one sitting on a rainy afternoon or long trip. The plot is relatively swift and poses few major setbacks, but Lippman adeptly keeps up the pacing and plot twists, pausing every so often to allow Tess to reflect on impending motherhood, or spend a little time learning more about her friends and loved ones. As Lippman notes in her afterword, the book differs somewhat from her previous novels because it “gave [her] multiple chances to write about love, marriage, and family. In almost every chapter someone tells Tess such a story.”
These anecdotes—Tess’ father’s story of when he first saw her mother, her best friend’s reflections successful but unsurprising career at her family’s trust—are where The Girl with the Green Raincoat really shines. A popular character who has featured in ten previous novels, Tess receives a fresh treatment here. As she goes forward, balancing motherhood and the life of a private investigator, Tess Monaghan is sure to be well-received by readers new to Lippman’s series as well as avid fans.