“She preferred dumpster diving in corporate espionage cases over divorce cases. The slime from the dumpster came off in the shower.”
I’ve wanted to try a Laura Lippman novel for some time, so when The Girl in The Green Raincoat fell my way, I grabbed the chance to read it. It’s one episode in the life of Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan, and this is the 11th novel in the series. It didn’t seem to matter much that I was jumping into the middle of Tess’s life, and at this point in her career, she’s a high risk pregnancy at age 35 and stymied on forced bedrest.
Bored to tears, one Sunday, Tess finds herself staring out of the window at dogwalkers lucky enough to walk their dogs (her own dogs, Esskay and Miata, are elsewhere in the house). Her attention is drawn continually to a young woman in a green raincoat, and why is she so noteworthy? Her dog, an Italian greyhound, sports a matching raincoat. Well if you see a woman and a dog wearing matching raincoats, it’s going to make an impression:
Her eye was drawn to a miniature version of Esskay, a prancing Greyhound, a true gray one, whereas Esskay was black with a patch of white at her breast. The little dog wore a green jacket belted around its middle and moved with the cocky self-confidence of someone used to being noticed. As did its human companion, in a tightly cinched celery-green raincoat that was a twin to the greyhound’s. Hard to tell the woman’s age at this distance, but Tess could make out sleek blond hair, a wasp-waisted figure. She was the kind of pretty woman who would be called a girl into her forties. She ignored the other dog owners, cradling what appeared to be a cell phone against her ear.
But after watching the dog owner and her dog for several days in a row, on Friday the woman isn’t there, but that night Tess sees the Italian Greyhound running around the park with a celery-green leash dangling from his collar.
Tess is convinced it’s a case of foul play, and so from her bed, she organises an investigation of the woman’s disappearance. It doesn’t take too much digging to discover that the missing woman is Carol Epstein, and that her husband, Don, is a modern-day Bluebeard. The women in his life haven’t fared well, and it doesn’t look good for his latest wife, Carol either. Epstein, who owns a chain of check-cashing outlets, is a real piece of work, and he claims that his wife isn’t missing at all–she’s just away on business.
A lot of the book’s fun comes from the frequent allusion to film scattered throughout the book. The basic plot is lifted right out of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, of course, and while this is noted early in the book, it’s also a reason why people don’t listen to Tess’s concerns at first. But as the dirt from Don’s past comes to light, Tess gets support for her theory that Carol Epstein met foul play. She rallies her staff and recruits her friend Whitney to go undercover to date this deadly Casanova:
Don Epstein dressed atrociously, in a style Whitney thought of a Bad Florida. Bright patterned shirts worn untucked, slip-on loafers in sherberty colors. And the jewelry! Epstein wore two large rings, not counting his wedding ring, an ID bracelet, and occasionally a gold chain around his neck.
Originally serialised in New York Times Magazine, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a speedy, humorous, addictive read. My impression about Lippman books (before actually reading one) is that they are something along the lines of Kate Atkinson, and after reading this novel, I no longer see the comparison. Since this is my first Lippman novel, I can’t judge the rest, but I can say that The Girl in the Green Raincoat has more in common with a cozy than hard or even soft-boiled crime. Any series detective novel must, by necessity, spend a portion of the book on the life of its protagonist since over time readers develop a relationship of sorts with that fictional character; we are interested not only in the crime but in the life and personal problems of the series detective or PI (Andrea Camilleri’s creation Inspector Montalbano’s long-distance relationship with his girlfriend, Henning Mankell’s Wallender and his father with Alzheimer’s). Here it seems about 50-50 crime and Tess’s personal life–although the end of the book (a quick read at 170 pages) tilts 100% towards Tess’s life & pregnancy. Given the emphasis on the dilemma of career vs family, child-rearing vs crime investigation, The Girl in the Green Raincoat will probably have more appeal for female readers.
My copy of The Girl in the Green Raincoat came courtesy of the publisher via netgalley and was read on my Kindle.