Monday, May 23, 2011

The Girl in the Green Raincoat

The Girl in the Green Raincoat, Laura Lippman’s eleventh Tess Monaghan novel, was originally published as a serial in the New York Times Magazine.  Since I only became acquainted with Lippman’s work beginning with 2007’s standalone novel, What the Dead Know, other than a short story or two, this is my first experience with Ms. Monaghan – and I seem to be catching her at a bad time.

Tess, because of preeclampsia, is ordered to spend the last two months of her pregnancy on extended bed rest.  In a takeoff on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Lippman has Tess move her bed out to her winterized sun porch for the duration of the pregnancy.  There, armed with a trusty pair of binoculars, Tess begins to study the dog-walkers who use the little park across the street from her house.  One walker, in particular, catches her eye - a green-raincoat-wearing blonde whose Italian greyhound always wears a matching green slicker on their walks.

When, one afternoon, Tess sees the dog sprinting through the park on its own, she fully expects to find the woman in the green raincoat running behind in a desperate attempt to catch up with her freedom-seeking pooch.  But this does not happen and, when neither the woman, nor the dog, has been seen for another day or so, Tess begins to suspect that something is very wrong.  So, as a means to avoid going totally stir-crazy on her sun porch, Tess decides to put her detective skills and experience to good use by tracking down the woman in the green raincoat to make sure that nothing has happened to her. 

Luckily for Tess, she has a crew-of-four willing to do for her what she cannot accomplish from the confines of her little makeshift bedroom: Crow, her boyfriend and father of the baby holding her prisoner; Whitney Talbot, Tess’s best friend; crackerjack researcher Dorie Starnes; and a most unusual private investigator, Mrs. Blossom.  As Tess grows more and more concerned about the missing woman’s fate, she will manage (much in the tradition of Rear Window) to move the investigation in a direction that places her sun porch in the middle of all the action.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat will work best for readers already at least a little familiar with the repeat characters from previous Tess Monaghan novels.  This one is very short, at just over 150 pages, and is probably best characterized as a novella rather than a novel.  That does not leave much room for character development in a plot that features such a large supporting cast.  Motivations, relationships, and personal histories that can only be guessed at by new readers are likely to be perfectly clear to Tess Monaghan veterans for whom the backstory is certain to be a significant part of the fun of The Girl in the Green Raincoat.  This is not a good spot at which to jump into the Tess Monaghan series.

Rated at: 3.5

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