Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Girl in the Green Raincoat

The Girl in the Green Raincoat, by Laura Lippman

This novella merits a resounding "meh".  It was written with serialization in mind-- and apparently it's not the first in a series about the same group of characters-- so maybe either or both of those things have something to do with my reaction... but no.  Honestly, there are more things I disliked than liked in this one, yet I won't go so far as to say it was unreadable or even terribly written.  Based on some of the other reviews I've skimmed since finishing the novella, even her fans feel this work wasn't her best, but I doubt I'll be tempted to try any of the novel-length works in the series.  There's just so much to choose from in the mystery genre.  Why settle for characters that don't grab your interest?

My Long List of Mostly Complaints:
(Slight spoilers to follow...)

•  I selected this book because I liked the title, the cover, and the indication that it was inspired by Rear Window.  I think I would've been better off just rewatching Rear Window.  Also, this is a perfect example of how a nice cover so often leads you astray.

•  I had to groan when I realized that the gimmick that lands the character on bed rest was a difficult pregnancy.  Preeclampsia?  It's not the kind of thing I really want to read about, to tell the truth.  That's actually exactly the sort of thing I least want to read about, ever.  Fortunately, the pregnancy/health aspects aren't described in too much detail.  

•  Unfortunately, the mystery itself is skimpy, predictable, and buried in the character's own life stories.  Which I found uninteresting.

•  One of the things I dislike about modern novels (mostly those set in contemporary times) is so many authors' penchant for inserting references to pet causes, current events, and "cutting edge" technology-- whether or not they'll add anything of value to the story they're telling.  Maybe it's asking too much of authors to wish that such things be kept at a minimum.  Probably some people love these references, and I can deal with them when they have anything significant to do with the plot or the character, but often they seem shoehorned into place.  The author wanted to make a Statement about this or that issue, so s/he works hard to find a way to work it in,  Even if it doesn't really "work".

•  I dare you to forget, while reading, that this story is set in Baltimore.  It's vitally important, apparently, based on how often it's mentioned.  However, despite the frequent mentions of Baltimore and local attractions/features that (I assume) Baltimoreans would recognize, I couldn't get a real sense of the place at all... (What it looks like, feels like, etc.) Which, considering that the main character is bed-ridden, was not that big of a deal.  I didn't read the book because I wanted to experience Baltimore vicariously.  But if it's not important to this particular story, why keep mentioning that it's set in Baltimore?  Baltimore. Balt. i. more.  BALTIMORE. 

•  Does product placement exist in books?  Did the author receive reimbursement from Apple?  Seriously!  The first mention of the iPhone, I thought, "Ok, I get it.  You're writing a story set in modern times-- times congruent with the miraculous invention of the iPhone.  Wow, that reference to the iPhone sure does make the story and its characters feel real to me!"  Then there's this:  "Even as she spoke, her well-trained thumbs had found a local rescue group for Italian greyhounds on her iPhone's Web connection and a single tap dialed the phone number."  ...Um, what?  Oh, sorry, I mean, wow, I gotta get me one of them iPhone things.  "A single tap"!  Fancy that!  Later on, we get another sales pitch:  "She had mocked Tess's iPhone, but it had a GPS function, something she would dearly love to have right now."

•  So, the main character and practically every "good" character in the book is identified as a democrat?  How nice for them all.  I, however, am not, and I'll admit that I got tired of the frequent references to political issues and/or leanings.  

•  "Whitney had a well-trained mind and she knew her anecdotal experiences were proof of nothing, but she believed in climate change and worried that things might be more dire than anyone realized  How did someone bring a child onto this fragile planet, when it might not even exist in a few decades?"   #1:  Gee, thanks for the science lesson, 'specially since it had nothing to do with the story I was reading.  #2:  Whitney, dear, Earth has been around a long, long time.  I doubt it's quite as fragile as you think, and I find it even more doubtful that it's going to cease to exist.  Any given species, on the other hand, now...

•  Tess (the main character) has been smoking marijuana "as recently as four months ago-- before she knew she was pregnant"?  Oh yeah, she's an ideal woman, for sure. 

•  What is it with calling a police officer working homicide "a murder police"?  She does it more than once, uses "police" as though it's singular.  It just sounds wrong to me.  "Police officer", please. 

•  There's a dog who uses a chamber pot.  Without being specifically trained to do so.   ...Has Ms. Lippman ever actually owned a dog?

•  "But even as her wireless connection allowed her to collapse time and space, it could never provide the serendipity of legwork she had known... She couldn't help wondering if this was part of some conspiracy, if this excess of access was a form of sleight of hand.  Look over here, look how much you can find.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."  ...Uh, yeah.  It's probably a conspiracy of some kind.  A deep, dark conspiracy. 

•  Augh!  Stop the pop culture references!  I beg you!

•  Possibly the best part of the book was something borrowed from another author:  "As Sherlock Holmes had said to Watson, to lose one wife was tragic, two was careless, and three-- well, Holmes hadn't had a word for that, as Whitney recalled."

•  I'll admit it:  I looked up the handbags mentioned in the Nordstrom's scene-- or at least the one mentioned by a specific name.  It's a real handbag.  It's big and pretty hideous. No wonder Whitney disapproved.

•   "I heard it on NPR!"  :o/  Sure, it's put in as a joke, but still... Myuck. 

•  "A man who believed in the death penalty--ugh."  Consider my eyes rolling in disgust right about at this point.

•   When the story begins to "climax" (if it can be said to climax when it's really not that much of a shocking twist and you never feel seriously worried over the main character's safety), there was this weird abrupt shift back and forth between two points of view-- Tess's and Whitney's.  A little visual cue that the POV is about to change might have been nice.  It was pretty jarring-- completely inelegant.  

•  "Thank God she had her handgun in her purse. Which was in the car."  Really?  Man, I don't think Whitney's really cut out for this line of work... It's getting close to sundown and you're being driven out into the middle-of-nowhere-in-the-woods by a guy you have reason to suspect may have murdered a handful of women (even if you do find him inexplicably attractive), and when the two of you get out of the car, you neglect to carry your purse, where you stowed your "just in case" handgun?  That's kind of careless.

• They gave the baby "Scout" for a middle name?  Well, what can you expect from a dad who calls himself "Crow"? 


While I was discussing the book with Donald, he observed that it sounded like it was full of cliches, and I think that's it exactly.  Basically, think of your (stereo)typical literary "liberated" female P.I. and ask yourself what you think her opinion of X, Y, or Z would be.  When I do that, pretty much every assumption I can think of is there.  It makes for dull reading.