My rating: 4 of 5 stars
TV and movie screenwriter Rob Thomas may bring the noir novel back–and that is a wonderful thing.
“The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line” is the first in what may be a series of Veronica Mars books that follow after the TV show AND the recent movie (Rob would be a fool if there weren’t more!). If you’ve never seen either the show or the movie, here’s the rough notes: Modern noir/murder mystery with all the basic elements but replace the solitary and case-worn older male PI with a 28-year-old petite blonde and a penchant for snarky comebacks. What isn’t there to love about this?!
[Full disclosure: I was one of the folks who Kickstarted the recent movie. I didn’t discover the TV show until about a year and a half ago, though, so I wouldn’t consider myself a super-fan or anything. It’s a darn adorable show and I enjoyed the movie. Plus I got a cool T-shirt. But I wasn’t planning on buying this book: it was loaned to me by a friend who not only had never seen or heard of VMars in other incarnations, but didn’t know about the Kickstarter stuff.]
NOTE: Don’t read this book OR this review any further if you want to see the movie but haven’t. The novel will spoil a bunch of the movie for you, in a very casual way. So see the movie first for optimum flow!
Things are a bit tense for Veronica on the open of the book. Her dad is still recovering from his serious injuries–he’s doing well, but isn’t back to himself and isn’t allowed to work–and though Veronica has been manning the PI desk while he’s gone, there haven’t been any cases. Money is starting to look tight, and Veronica’s decision to drop her whole career path and life to return to the private investigator life in Neptune is starting to look questionable at best. (For once, though, Logan isn’t at the heart of some scandal; he’s tucked away doing important military things and is barely in contact.)
But when first one, then two college girls go missing while spring-breaking at Neptune, the city council wants them found…and don’t trust corrupt and/or stupid Sheriff Lamb to keep ruining Neptune’s image. Veronica goes on the case–forcing her to face straight-on her father’s understandable fears for her safety.
It’s a great mystery, and unlike some others, I didn’t see the result coming at all. The story has all the same snap and zest as the show/movie, and it felt like returning to a beloved but slightly changed town. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me so much, but Rob Thomas is excellent with dialogue. It’s like he’s somehow channels 20-something women today, which is pretty crazy. The non-dialogue bulk of the story is solid, even though there are some minor things a long-form writer (versus a screenwriter) would have done differently (that’s probably something only the really devoted reader will notice, however). It’s a lot of fun and would make the perfect summer read. I can’t wait for there to be more.
But… well, I couldn’t give it 5 stars because of a plot decision that is both minor and a major spoiler, depending on your perspective. It never felt plausible and threw off my feeling that this was a realistic concept.
It seems like a complete betrayal of readers for Veronica’s estranged mother to also just “happen” to be the step-mother of one of the missing girls. I mean, really? First, that the daughter would have selected to go to Neptune for spring break instead of ANYWHERE else. Second, that she would then go missing. Third, that her missing persons case would have some seriously hinky twists to it?
It all felt too contrived. I am all for more drama and intrigue with Veronica’s mother, and we did get some interesting character development out of the situation, but for a first novel in what will hopefully be a series, it felt like Rob threw that in merely to play “rehash all the important characters from Veronica’s past.”
There was no reason for her mom to make an appearance in this. No plausible explanation, even, for the scenario to come up. Maybe if this had been a later novel I could have accepted the “amazing coincidence” of Lianne being involved in a case Veronica had to solve, but this was just a little too much for me and it felt trite.
Overall, this is a really fun book and I hope to see more. The noir genre is old and had been pretty musty. A feisty and smart gal like Veronica may be exactly what it needs to come back to life.