Laura Lippman never has trouble coming up with surprising, intricate plots for her mystery novels. Her talents are on full display in Seasonal Work, a collection of short stories, two featuring her popular detective Tess Monaghan. Lippman understands that the best stories involve ordinary people who somehow find themselves in unexpected, challenging, and often even dangerous situations.
Laura Lippman (Photo Credit: Lesley Unruh)
In the first story which gives the collection its title, fourteen year-old Kathy is dependent upon her stepfather, Gary, a con man whose scam makes it necessary for his small family to keep moving. Lippman was once a newspaper reporter, and it’s easy to see how Kathy’s story might have been one that she would pursue. The success of Gary’s plan depends on the generosity of strangers. A single dad spends his hard-earned money on Christmas presents, only to have them all stolen from their van. The robbery is reported, the reporters arrive, and the resulting publicity results in a flood of gifts which Gary can cash in. Then, it’s off to another town. Except this time an enterprising reporter – Tess, of course – does research and picks up a pattern. Pretending to be from the local school district, Tess manages to get Kathy alone to provide help. But will the teen take her up on the offer?
In “The Book Thing,” Tess sets out to help the owner of a local children’s bookstore whose stock is disappearing. The owner has not asked for Tess’s help and, truth be told, is a disagreeable older woman who dislikes children. Go figure. But once Tess’s antenna goes up, she’s on the case. The thief presents as a surprise, someone who, truth be told, can’t resist tearing into a book.
The plots are as varied as the characters. In “The Everyday Housewife,” Judith Monaghan is more observant than her husband and neighbors know so she’s not surprised when a spy drama plays out nearby. Why waste her skills? Soon she’s working for NSA. In “Cougar,” an aging waitress is afraid of her son who has moved back home to set up a drug-dealing operation in her basement. How she gets her home back earns her that nickname.
In “Snowflake Time,” an offhand comment – “I don’t need to know anything about your body unless it affects my body” – sets in motion events typical in the day of #metoo. A companion piece “Tricks,” has time running out for a man who fleeces women.
Children occupy center stage in the supernatural “Ice” and in “The Last of Sheila Locke-Holmes.” Marital issues are the focus in “Waco 1982,” and “Slow Burner,’ and “Just One More.” Each has a unique premise and plot. Zipping through this section of the collection is inevitable.