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First book in Veronica Mars mystery series doesn't quite gel


Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

Authors: Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
Publisher: Vintage

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The conspiracy to replace March Madness with Mars Madness continues with the release of a new book featuring Neptune, California’s once and future detective. Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is the first in a two-book series co-written by series creator Rob Thomas. According to Thomas and as evidenced by his involvement, unlike other spin-off series based on a particular work, these two books are to be considered part of the official continuity the series and recent film have explored. Yet there’s something paramount that’s missing in this official Veronica Mars detective mystery starring Veronica Mars and her ragtag band of problem-solvers: Veronica herself.

The decision not to narrate the book as first-person from Veronica’s perspective seems an odd choice and a conceit that automatically sets the novel at a distance from its source material. The voiceovers’ function as narrative device in the TV show is two-fold: They allow viewers into Veronica’s head even when she’s at her most pensive or stoic, and they allow Thomas and company an elegant way to info-dump. Without them, the exposition is all the more clunky and conspicuous. The use of a detached, omniscient third-person here seems anathema to the Veronica Mars universe, and to the detective-noir genre to which it’s paying homage. And despite her presence on every page, it makes the heroine seem somehow absent from the telling of the story.

Thousand Dollar Tan Line picks up right where the film ends, and after a few chapters of catch up, summarizing the movie’s events, the plot is set in motion: It’s spring break in Neptune, and a young co-ed from out of town has disappeared from a lavish party. Tourism is being affected, and the sheriff’s department is as corrupt and inept as ever. Enter Mars Investigations. A hairpin turn in the middle of the investigation raises the emotional stakes for Veronica and makes this case more than the literary equivalent to a case-of-the-week, which helps, but it’s not quite enough to push this into being a viable entry point for newcomers. So much of the charm of these characters can be traced to the performances of the actors portraying them. That charm was able to sell the more formulaic structure of the television episodes, and it is noticeably missing (and missed) here. 

Much like the film, where the book does work is in its utter devotion to loyalists. There are so many callbacks to elements of the series, it practically begs for the invention of some kind of drinking game—if book-reading was a drinking-game activity, that is. Several ancillary characters that didn’t make it into the film pop up in this book in what would amount to a parade of cameos were this a visual medium, and they often crowd out the more major players. Yet there are a few nice moments toward the end that exemplify the evolution of one of the best parent/child relationships conceived and depicted on television. Here’s hoping the second book has more Keith Mars.