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P.I.

Another Thing to Fall, Laura Lippman, Harper, $7.99.

Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman

While I've always enjoyed Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan books, as she's developed and matured as a writer (thanks in part, I think, to her wonderful standalones) the Tess books have gotten better. I listened to this book in the car until about three quarters of the way through, and I finished it "on paper". It was a different experience. In some ways, listening to the book highlighted her sophisticated use of language which can almost be overlooked when you're reading, I think because she makes it look easy. The opening segment (which has a great riff on coffee-drinking young people) has a character thinking, "Unlike most people, even allegedly educated ones, he used those words with absolute precision...as he prided himself on all his usage." Lippman herself is just as precise and just as deadly. This book is a satire but it's also a great story and ultimately, because of Tess' empathic way of thinking, a moving story too.

The book takes place on the set of a television show being shot in Baltimore, Mann of Steel, which has aroused community ire and seems to be a focus of various pranks, some more serious than others. I resisted this book at first because it sounded a little gimmicky, but of course I should have trusted Lippman's talent. Her set-side tour is detailed, funny and full of great characters, notably the series star, Selene, a young, spoiled, talented "actor" (as Tess almost learns to call her, instead of actress) who also seems like a complete airhead. Tess is hired on (after a convenient boating accident) as Selene's security detail, which thankfully includes—though I could have used more of her—Tess' friend, Whitney. She's kind of like Myron Bolitar's great sidekick, Winn, and I guess a greater use of Whitney would almost destroy some of her mystery, but that said, she's a great character.

The actual mystery involves the murder of one of the behind the scenes workers who seems to have, as Tess discovers, a lot of secrets. Lippman is absolutely great at telling a story while sprinkling the investigative clues through the narrative in a seemingly effortless fashion. It doesn't seem labored, it seems completely natural. In the manner of many great P.I.s, Tess is the sensible and clear thinking center, with events and people swirling around her. The story is complicated and told in layers—some of the parts begin to match up with the narrative toward the end of the novel but meanwhile you must work through the threads and try to tie them up yourself. This is a book by a writer absolutely at the top of her game. In her hands she holds plot and character as well as a healthy sense of irony and a beautiful and playful use of language. This book was a pleasure from start to finish, and I couldn't recommend it more highly.

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