The tenth entry in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series finds the Baltimore-native reporter-turned-private-eye rowing her way into the production of the television mini-series Mann of Steel. Tess is hired to provide security for young starlet Selene Waites (think Paris Hilton only with acting ability) due to a series of disturbing incidents plaguing the fledgling series.
At first Tess chalks Selene up to a ditzy Hollywood type, but events quickly show that Selene is cleverer than she lets on. When the series of incidents escalates into the death of one of the writing assistants, Tess’ natural curiosity is piqued and she begins to investigate what’s really happening with the Mann of Steel production.
As the story unfolds, a number of likely suspects enter into the picture with Lippman laying out a foundation and motive for each person to be part of the plot to disrupt the production of the show. As always with Lippman’s books, the pages turn easily and the narrative shifts between several characters while staying firmly grounded with Tess. The first half of the book lays out all the characters and their potential motivations and the second half puts the pieces into place, leading up to a satisfying denouncement to multiple mysteries taking place within the novel.
Yet despite having several threads running, the novel never loses focus or the reader.
Along with Elizabeth George, Lippman writes the most satisfying, character-driven mystery novels on the market today. As with George’s Lynley and Havers series, part of the pleasure in Lippman’s Monaghan novels is the chance to “catch up” with Tess. Of course, the mystery is compelling as well or else the novels wouldn’t be worth the time or effort. But the balance of character and mystery is well navigated here. And Lippman does the near impossible task of allowing new readers into the Tess universe while satisfying long-time readers of Tess’ adventures.