I don’t know what drew me to this book. I don’t normally read private investigator novels, and I’m usually not a fan of P.I. series — I like how Nick Hornby put it in The Polysyllabic Spree:
My problem is that when I’m reading a novel, I have a need to believe that the events described therein are definitive, that they really matter to the characters. In other words, if 1987 turned out to be a real bitch of a year for Winston Smith, then I don’t want to be wasting my time reading about what happened to him back in ‘84…Hang on a moment. The worst night of your life was three years ago? So what am I reading about now? The fourth-worst night of your life?
I’ve heard consistently good things about Laura Lippman, though, and she’s won just about every prize that a mystery writer can win. I thought I’d give her a try with this brief novella, which was originally published serially in the New York Times.
Because I had no prior knowledge of Tess Monaghan, Lippman’s Baltimore PI, the book probably didn’t resonate as much with me as it might have for a devoted Lippman fan. It’s an homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, in which a very pregnant Tess has been confined to bed rest and becomes fascinated by a woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog past the window every day — until one day, she doesn’t. Enlisting the help of her boyfriend and colleague, Tess attempts to uncover the truth.
It’s a pretty clever way of updating Hitchcock’s story, the prose is sharp, and the mystery itself has some great twists. There’s almost no character development, though. I’m guessing that Lippman assumes her readers will already be familiar with Tess and Company, and thus didn’t feel the need to delve too deeply into their development. The problem is that this makes it significantly more difficult for the uninitiated to fully appreciate the book. It was fine for a quick read, but didn’t leave me itching to read any more.