26 October 2009

Review: ANOTHER THING TO FALL, Laura Lippman

Orion Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7528-8857-6, 325 pages
#10 in the Tess Monaghan series.

Tess Monaghan becomes involved in the protection of a young star of a television series, Mann of Steel, being filmed in Baltimore. Selene Waite, barely twenty, rather self-centred and seemingly vacuous, has already been the prey of a twisted stalker who then committed suicide. But that's not the only cause for concern - small incidents are happening on the set, and it seems that it won't be long before something really serious occurs. Selene is far from co-operative with Tess and even spikes Tess's drink at a nightclub to get away from her.

From the very start the reader knows, even if one stalker is already dead, there is another watching Selene, taking photos, planning havoc. And then there are the protesters, the steelworkers of Baltimore, who say the television series is not treating their industry with any accuracy, and is riding roughshod over the residents. And what about the ageing Johnny Tampa, playing opposite Selene, who definitely believes the script is being manipulated for her benefit?

I found ANOTHER THING TO FALL very hard to get my head around. It seemed to me to lack focus. There were lots of characters and for a large part of the plot I really didn't know where it was going. This is #10 in the Tess Monaghan series, and lovers of the series will probably be aghast at my criticism. I felt that Lippman has not taken sufficiently into account that the reader may have picked the series up for the first time. I was looking for a bit of background about Tess and her background, and yes, I did get some, eventually. I felt much of the characterisation, particularly of Tess herself, assumed that I had met Tess in earlier books. There are some interesting characters - I loved Mrs Blossom for example - but for many the details are thin, and I actually felt there were too many characters for me to assimilate into one story.

My rating 3.6

I was really disappointed that I didn't enjoy ANOTHER THING TO FALL more, because I have enjoyed other Lippman novels. For example I gave WHAT THE DEAD KNOW a rating of 4.7. Back in 2005 I gave BY A SPIDER'S THREAD a rating of 5.

Reviews by others (who don't necessarily agree with me)
Laura Lippman's books: the links will take you to her website.


Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed review. You've put your finger on a real issue with novel series - how much background to give in each novel. Ideally, a "series" novel works as a standalone and as part of a series (of course, that's lots easier to write about than it is to actually do). Well-taken point!

BooksPlease said...

Margot makes a good point - it must be difficult to make each book stand alone. And even if you've read all the previous books it helps to have some reminders of the background - I can't remember everything I've read anyway!! But a book that has me wondering who everybody is, is really frustrating.

Philip said...

Very perceptive, Kerrie, of course. I came to Lippman late, and it didn't take long before I realized that I had best go back to the beginning of the series if I were to be fully au fait with the goings-on. Providing the necessary back story in a series entry so that it can stand alone is difficult, and gets more so as the series progresses, but it can be done and very well -- Carol O'Connell's Mallory. However, it dawned on me some time back, and I've advised this hither and yon since, that more and more series are taking on the nature of serials, and thus the best thing to do with any series is to start at the beginning. In any case, as with Ed McBain, Reg Hill, et al., this will almost always yield the benefit of seeing how characters and circumstances in the novels change over time, independent of story lines.

Kerrie said...

I think one of the problems for me was that the "reminders" about the continuing elements of the series came too late and I was left floundering too long. I had a problem envisaging the other principal characters. For example I couldn't work out how old the two screen writers were supposed to be [although I think I was actually told their age], and they didn't really come to life for me. A pity really

Kerrie said...

Is there a difference between a series and a serial? The idea of a serial seems to put the author into follow-on mode, and perhaps take away some of the necessity to repeat information and characterisation. A series to me can be more episodic, instances separated by greater lengths of time, glimpses into a life that continues even when the reader is not there. I think one of the other distractions in this novel is that we, the reader, knows more than Tess. We see another strand to the story that she doesn't know about until towards the end. But we are not really sure of what we are seeing.

Philip said...

I think you describe the difference between 'series' and 'serial' nicely there, Kerrie. A series consists of a number of self-contained stories which may have some common element (e.g., a recurring character, a common venue, a common theme) or may not. A serial is one story divided into parts. Dickens' The Mudfog Papers, which he published separately but later collected in a volume, are discontinuous tales, though all about the Mudfog Society for the Advancement of Everything, and constitute a series. The Adventures of Oliver Twist, on the other hand, is one tale which he first published in monthly instalments, and that, therefore, constituted a serial.

Now I come to think about this, from the point of view of a Londoner living in Canada, I think 'serial' is (or was) used far more in Britain than in North America. A television adaptation of a novel used to be called a 'serialisation', though I haven't come across that usage for some time. The TV mini-series, which I think is an American coinage, is almost always, in fact, a serial. An acid test of whether a TV programme is a series or a serial might be just how much you mind missing an episode.

Philip said...

Clarification: I meant to say in the second paragraph, "A television adaptation of a novel broadcast in episodes...".

Kerrie said...

Yes, I agree with your definition Philip. A serial is connected to the chapters/episodes on either side of it. Together they constitute a whole. A series on the other hand basically shares characters but each could stand on its own if needed.


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