Friday, March 30, 2007

I Found A New Mystery Series To Enjoy!

Mystery novels remain some of my standard fare. There’s nothing like kicking back and testing an author—especially a new one or a favored old one—to see if they can slip one by me.

I’d heard a lot about Laura Lippman and her series detective Tess Monaghan. I’d even picked up a few books. But I hadn’t gotten around to reading her. Then the latest Tess Monaghan book came out in paperback with a great, captivating cover and I just had to pick it up.

I’m glad I did. Although the mystery wasn’t as mysterious as I would have thought, the characters were nothing short of living, breathing people. Tess’s boyfriend, Crow, takes center stage to a degree in this book. Tess is all about business and being responsible (within her own rules and limitations, of course) and Edgar “Crow” Ransome leans in favor of a more relaxed approach. They play off each other splendidly.

The way Lippman handled the introduction of the characters was well done. I liked the opening narration by Crow, which set up the closing narration as well, because I actually go the chance to decide that I liked the characters because of who they were rather than what trouble they got into or what action they took.

The gentle way the author took us into the mystery/drama was well done too. Crow meets Lloyd, a streetwise young black teen, when Lloyd is part of a two-man operation to boost a few bucks out of people’s pockets. Lloyd’s partner punctures a person’s tire, and Lloyd just happens by with a jack and a tire wrench. Crow berates Lloyd and convinces him to let him take him out for lunch rather than pay him cash. With all the bad weather coming on, Crow invites Lloyd to Tess’s house where Crow is living. If I hadn’t already gotten to know the characters, I don’t know that I would have believed that plot. But this is what Crow is all about.

Things start to get complicated almost at once. Crow really wants to domesticate Lloyd, but Lloyd has simply pulled a Trojan Horse maneuver on Crow to get into the house so he can still stuff. That part was exceptionally well done as well. Everything bad grew out of that kindness, out of that one good deed that Crow tried to work.

After Lloyd slips away in the middle of the night, he runs Crow’s car into someone else and starts off a chain of events that lead Crow and Tess into the confrontations with killers that threatens to tear their whole world apart. Before long, state and federal investigators approach Tess and start making her life a living hell after she arranges to have testimony fall into the hands of a newspaper she wanted to do business with.

Lippman delivers the goods on her villains, making them hard as nails and arranging it so they have an assortment of weapons to throw onto Tess in an effort to get her to knuckle under to their demands.

The decision to separate Crow and Tess for most of the book’s action was an interesting one, but i works and pays off well. While Tess wrangles with the official pressure and Crow is off gallivanting around staying hidden, he also steps up to be something of a surrogate father for Lloyd. I found Crow’s choice of reading and viewing matter extremely interesting as well. Evidently Crow and I (and doubtless Laura Lippman) treasure books and movies by the same people. Some of Crow’s favorites are also my favorites. Read closely and you may find some of yours.

After reading No Good Deeds, I realized that what I was reading wasn’t truly a mystery story. Lippman is so good at building characters and crafting a plot that the book feels like a introduction to two different but equally good characters.

The dialogue is good. There’s a lot of it and it does more work than just advance the plot. People talk and exchange plot points and information, but it adds layers to the characters and to the Baltimore world on stage.

The plot is somewhat reminiscent of Robert B. Parker’s Early Autumn, but that’s more a tip of the hat than anything else. Parker’s book is one of those that get mentioned during the course of the novel.

In addition to the Tess Monaghan series, Laura Lippman is—like so many of the current mystery series authors out there—writing stand-alone suspense thrillers. They are generating a lot of good reviews from critics as well as casual readers. I’ll be picking those books up as well because I’m convinced I’ve found a new favorite author. The lady can write. She knows her way around plots and characters. No Good Deeds is a great read that will keep you entertained from beginning to end whether you’re a regular mystery fan or suspense reader.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I picked up 'The Power of Three' by her. It has a mostly red cover. But I haven't started it yet. Other things keep coming up.

great review Mel. If I like the one I've got I will have to pick this one up as well.

Hope things are going well for you!