P.I. Tess Monaghan goes to Baltimore

March 10, 2008 12:35:11 PM PDT
In the 10th novel of Lippman's series about Baltimore private detective Tess Monaghan, our heroine's latest assignment is to bodyguard a Hollywood starlet filming a TV show in her hometown.

The production has been rattled by a series of small fires, a power outage and, most disturbing, the suicide of a local man who was apparently stalking the show's 20-year-old rising star, Selene Waites.

But when an ambitious, young assistant is beaten to death, Tess' job becomes much more complicated than simply baby-sitting a spoiled celebrity. It doesn't help that Tess is surrounded by performers and storytellers, and that most of them have a secret.

Lippman is an authoritative guide to the behind-the-scenes action at a television production, which is not surprising given that her husband, David Simon, is the creator of HBO's "The Wire." The police drama, also based in Baltimore, just completed its fifth and final season.

Lippman clearly has fun pitting her prickly, wry heroine against the egotistical Hollywood transplants, particularly Selene, whose bad-girl behavior and ditsy malapropisms spoof a number of today's Hollywood tartlets.

But Lippman's characters are too complex to be simple parodies. Take, for example, an early description of Selene, whom Tess compares to a toddler: "a mercurial being that was all id, focused on satisfying her desires as she experienced them, determined to control anything she could, because, on some level, she sensed that she controlled nothing."

Lippman's nuanced characterizations extend to the rest of the supporting cast, which includes a vain, aging Hollywood heartthrob; a self-indulgent, but insecure writer; and a local girl desperate to grab her last chance at fortune.

As always, Lippman's beloved hometown also plays a starring role in the novel. "Another Thing to Fall," like most of her books, is sprinkled with bits of Baltimore trivia and history, as well as what amounts to mini-reviews of the city's local restaurants.

However, this novel doesn't quite achieve the suspense of some of Lippman's previous work. Lippman shifts points of view throughout the narrative, so the reader knows the killer's identity long before Tess. And while Lippman does a masterful job of revealing the thoughts of an assortment of interesting characters, the detours tend to slow the action rather than advance it.

In the end, "Another Thing to Fall" is a welcome addition to Tess Monaghan's adventures and an insightful look at the desperation that drives those grasping for a shot at fame and those who will do anything to keep it. Lippman's fans will be anxious for the next installment.