Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Review: "Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line"

It’s been a big year for Veronica Mars. Thanks to a rather epic Kickstarter campaign, Rob Thomas and company were able to create a movie (you may have heard about it). That movie premiered last month to positive critical (and fan) reception. You can see from our own review here at MTVP that Sarah and I enjoyed the movie very much. After such a long gap between the series finale and the movie, it is embarrassment of riches that we already have the next chapter in Veronica’s story. “Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line” by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham picks up a couple months after the movie left off. It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect from a Veronica Mars book. It’s an engaging mystery and a quick read.

The book really picks up where the movie left off. Keith is finishing up his post-car accident rehab, Logan is out on a Navy deployment, and Veronica is trying her best to keep Mars Investigations afloat with Mac’s help. Just as the finances are looking pretty dire, Veronica gets a case thanks to the local Chamber of Commerce. Apparently Neptune is the seedy spring break hot spot of the west coast. A coed has gone missing, and the media coverage has been bad for business. The investigation leads to a party house and two Mexican drug cartel heirs. When a second girl goes missing, the connection to the party house feels even stronger.¬ There is also a very surprising connection to Veronica’s past. Beware, spoilers abound from this point forward!

On the whole, “The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line” was a well-written example of your pretty typical paperback mystery (well, Kindle mystery in my case, but you get the point). The voices of the characters were captured especially well. I could hear Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni saying Veronica and Keith’s dialogue. The mystery itself was also very well plotted. There were twists that I didn’t expect, which is impressive considering the number of mysteries I have read and watched over the past thirty years. The first twist that I liked was that Thomas and Graham managed to work Veronica’s estranged mother into the story. Leanne walked away from the Mars family long ago, and it turns out she has a second family now. Her stepdaughter is actually the second girl to go missing in Neptune during spring break. The second twist that worked especially well was that Leanne’s stepdaughter was actually one of the orchestrators of her own disappearance (she and her dad thought it would be a great way to earn some cash after they saw how much money the family of the first disappeared girl got).

Injecting Veronica’s mother and her new family into the story raised the stakes and made the mystery more personal for Veronica. Veronica had to reconcile her feelings about her mother with her need to do her job. Seeing Leanne with her new husband, stepdaughter, and son is obviously really painful for Veronica, but she has to take the case just as seriously as she would any other. When she begins to suspect that her stepfather may somehow be involved in his daughter’s disappearance, Leanne obviously doesn’t want to believe Veronica at first. It’s perfectly reasonable that Leanne might suspect that Veronica’s judgment of her stepfather is clouded by her own emotions surrounding the situation. Veronica’s instinct is actually better than that, though, and her stepfather and stepsister are actually involved. Leanne is going to have to piece her life back together yet again, and it will be interesting to see if Veronica will be a part of that.

Another interesting aspect to the book is that Logan is very much on the sidelines. He’s deployed to the Persian Gulf, so his only involvement in the story comes from occasional Skype chats with Veronica. Even the Skype chats themselves aren’t all that reliable. Sometimes other sailors want to use the ship’s computers, and sometimes the internet connection aboard ship just sucks. In theory, Veronica should have known what she was signing up for when she decided to rekindle a relationship with someone in the military. I guess knowing intellectually that something is going to happen is different from actually experiencing it. Veronica is struggling with the fact that while she’s going through some serious family drama, Logan isn’t able to be there for her. It would be quite poetic if the thing that got Logan to the place where he could be in a good relationship with Veronica (his military career) is ultimately what tears them apart again. On the positive side, Veronica still has Keith, Mac, and Wallace to help her through the events of this book.

A creative choice that I don’t think worked quite as well was the choice to tell the story in third person. The conceit behind Veronica Mars is that it is supposed to be modern, Southern California noir. One of the best examples I can think of to demonstrate this is the final scene of the series finale. Veronica has broken up with her boyfriend, and her dad has lost the election for Sheriff, and we see Veronica walk off into the dark on a rainy, foggy night. Old school noir detective stories have a lot of running inner dialogue, talking about how rough the city is, mostly. That aspect was somewhat missing from “The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.” I think, of the contemporary authors I’ve read, Jim Butcher of “Dresden Files” fame captures this vibe the best. Harry Dresden always has that gritty, emo running dialogue going on. It seemed like there was an attempt to show how seedy Neptune is by describing in detail the level of spring break debauchery that takes place there, but the lack of running Veronica dialogue kind of robbed the seedy location of its noir power.

Overall, “The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line” is worth a read, especially if you are a fan of “Veronica Mars.” It advances the mythology of the show while telling a satisfying, surprising self-contained mystery. We get to see Neptune at its worst, and we also get to explore Veronica’s relationship with her mother in more depth. What it lacks in noir atmosphere, the book makes up for in deep characterization and a good effort to capture the voices of the character from the television shop and movie. It takes a lot to surprise me in a mystery these days, and on that front, “The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line” delivered. If you want to know what happens next to Veronica and company and have fun while finding out, pick this book up for sure.

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