Laura Lippman, as most crime fiction fans already know, is married to David Simon, executive producer of The Wire. And if you’ve ever talked to anyone even peripherally connected with that show, you know it’s as far from Hollywood as you can get. Simon is a former journalist. Most of his writing staff were either novelists (George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane), many of the cops Homicide: Life in the Streets were based on, and even a few of the criminals those same cops once prosecuted. The result? An unglamorous, realistic depiction of a struggling port city.
Another Thing to Fall is about none of that. No, this outing for Lippman’s Tess Monaghan is about everything you’ve ever heard about Hollywood: neurotic show runners and writers, self-absorbed actors, and back-stabbing staffers, all just as real as The Wire, only Baltimore is more of an escape for the reader than the site of an unrelenting struggle to survive. (Hey, I’ve been to Baltimore. Both Lippman and Simon’s Baltimores are very real.) It’s the folks from the fantasy factory that make you want to look for Omar Little to borrow his sawed-off and some ammo.
Tess is out rowing one morning when she accidentally rows into a shoot for television series Mann of Steel, sort of Flashdance meets Life on Mars meets [insert Jane Austen novel here]. It sounds like something Lee Goldberg or Harlan Ellison might have overheard during a meeting with network executives. Instead of getting hauled off the set by cops, the show runner hires Tess to play body guard to Selene Waites, the show’s 20-something bad girl star. Director Flip Tumulty believes she is behind the accidents plaguing the production. Tess has a hard time taking Flip seriously. His father was a famous director as well, and Flip has daddy issues.
In the process, Tess ends up dealing with the show’s male lead, the aging, nerdy, insecure Johnny Tampa (whose poster once adorned Tess’s wall) and investigating a murder. The murder exposes a totally unexpected scheme by a couple of men who knew Selene as a teenager.
Beginning with By a Spider’s Thread, the Monaghan series has grown more complex, a trend that followed Lippman’s forays into standalone fiction. Indeed, By a Spider’s Thread and Lippman’s first standalone, Every Secret Thing, marked a maturation of her writing. Her characters were more nuanced, and some of her more recent work is not so much crime fiction as it is fiction using crime as a jumping off point.
That said, Another Thing to Fall is a bit of a retro Tess. It has the feel of some of the older Tess novels, and is more of a straight up mystery. Naturally, as Lippman’s skills have deepened since the days of The Last Place, it’s much more complex than the early Tesses. It’s a bit like Lippman left town for bigger and better things and is coming back to pay a visit.
It was a very pleasant visit.