The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

Title: The Girl in the Green Raincoat
Author: Laura Lippman
Series: Tess Monaghan mysteries #11
Publication date: January, 2011
Length: 171 pages
Format: I read an eARC, but it appears that this novella will be released as a trade paperback, according to HarperCollins’ page for the book.

I mentioned last week, I think, that I have succumbed to the lure of Net Galley. While poking around among the genre lists, this cover caught my eye, followed by the author’s name. When I saw the name Tess Monaghan in small print? Sold.

Background information: Tess Monaghan is a private investigator in Baltimore, Maryland. She began as a reporter for the Baltimore Star, a failed local daily, and did freelance writing and bookstore clerking to make ends meet. Eventually, she put her journalism skills to use in a different way: as a private investigator. I don’t recall her age at the beginning of the series, but by this ninth book, she’s thirty five. She’s Baltimore born and bred, which is a good thing for her business, since the city and its close-knit neighborhoods tend to play roles in each mystery (see especially The Sugar House IMO). For more background on Tess, check out Lippman’s bio of her.

The book opens with Tess confined to bed rest during during the last two months of a high-risk pregnancy. Like her relationship with Crow, the baby’s father, the pregnancy was unplanned and a bit of a surprise, and she’s ambivalent about how her life has changed already and the changes coming after the birth. Bored spending all day on a chaise lounge in her sun room, Tess takes to watching the neighborhood park through binoculars. One park regular in particular catches her eye — a woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog, a greyhound dressed to match, while talking on her cellphone. One day, though, the dog dashes through the park unattended, no owner in sight. Concerned and then obsessed, Tess badgers her friends and family into doing the legwork that she cannot, finding out who the woman was, and questioning her disappearance, especially when Tess learns that her husband has a history of suspiciously-dying wives.

Essentially, Lippman has written an homage to Rear Window and The Daughter of Time. In addition to the whodunit, the mystery of relationships is a key theme. As in, relationships observed from the outside are seldom exactly what you think they are, and the things that glue people together can be surprising. Tess is confronted with relationship conundrums for the missing woman, for herself, and for different members of her family circle.

I enjoyed the unfolding of the mystery and did not see the twist at the end until it was almost upon me. Even as I began to suspect the actual culprit, I was nowhere near the motive. This particular episode has less of a sense of place than the other Tess Monaghan mysteries, probably because Tess was so physically confined. I’m also curious about Tess’s future and this series’ future, since the book ends with Tess at a crossroads in her life.

The mystery is independent and contained within the novella, so a reader could pick up this book without having read the books that came before. Having said that, I do think that for context, subtext and character background, it’s best to read the series in order.

There were some typos in the eARC, which I hope will be caught before the book goes to print, things like using contact for contract, etc. The only one that really concerned me was the changing spelling of the missing girl’s last name.

Would I recommend this book? Yes.

Would I buy a copy? Yes, I’m planning on it, although I’ll probably buy an ebook or wait for the mass market paperback rather than the trade paperback.

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