Review: Veronica Mars – The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

This review was originally posted on POP CULTURE-Y, August 21, 2014

For all those marshmallows basking in the afterglow of the 2014 Veronica Mars movie, series creator Rob Thomas offers readers a chance to hang out with their favourite pint-sized detective in the wake of the film’s events. Written by the more-than-capableJennifer Graham, readers will immediately feel the classic Neptune colour palette in the first in a series of Veronica Mars mystery novels.

The city of Neptune acts as a superconductor for the wealthy and bored, as spring-breakers descend on the town and Veronica is called to pick up the pieces. When a girl goes missing and hints of drug cartel involvement surface, Veronica is faced with the terrifying prospect that perhaps everything is beyond her righteous powers of investigative determination.

Every character you could hope for makes an appearance, as well as larger-than-life locations, like the Camelot Motel and the Neptune Grande. Graham’s passion for the series comes through in her dialogue with pitch perfect lines to the tune of each character. Veronica and Keith’s loving father-daughter relationship is perfectly captured in the minutia of their banter and subtle gestures. Everything feels ripped straight out of an episode, which turns out to be a double-edged sword. The events that transpire are no more or less than we’ve seen before. The twists, the red herrings, the underage king-pins, everything matches what we’ve seen each season. The rich and powerful manipulate, and the bumbling cops eat right out of their hand. Everything has that same teenage aesthetic, from the beach parties, to the boyfriend troubles to the desperate need for parental approval. Veronica is 28 at this point, but she still hasn’t outgrown the youth-obsessed Neptune, and we’re led to believe she never will. In Neptune there are only the sexy and the poor.

Veronica Mars cover

Scenes play out with energy and drive, helped along by short chapters and no down time. Important developments secure this as an ongoing series, and the trademark thrills make the (thankfully short) wait for the second novel agonising. There’s no big cliffhanger, but the stage is rearranged tantalisingly enough that it’s hard not to crave another visit to this seedy world as soon as possible.

I’ve always admired the ability of Thomas’ characters to simultaneously represent and tear down stereotypes. The genuine societal issues addressed in this volume range from the usual classism and corruption to drug abuse and psychological disorders. Family plays a particularly strong role and leaves us with a simultaneously brighter and dimmer view of humanity and familial bonds. Each character is respected, but that doesn’t mean we’re not without our favourite caricatures. We see Cliff McCormack, the malleable, but kind-hearted public defence lawyer, Dan Lamb (Don’s older brother) the monstrously corrupt, but imbecilic sheriff, and Petra Landros, the former underwear model turned hotel tycoon, able to throw money at any situation. These characters offer a more cartoonish look at the plight of this troubled town. Many of the bad guys are fun to hate, but The Thousand Dollar Tan Line offers us several of the best kinds of villains, ones whose trajectory is relatable and all the more tragic.

The flavour of the show is carried over in the quirks and coincidences that make it a trueVeronica Mars tale. The sneaking around and ALWAYS GETTING CAUGHT, the teamwork and strong bonds of friendship, the tense stand-offs and the memorable pay-backs. And the victory is never as clear-cut as a straight-out win. This consistency is good news, as Rob Thomas assures us that these books will remain canonical, even if further television shows or movies go into production.

A large caveat worth mentioning is the book’s relationship with the film. If anyone had problems with the character and plot progression in the movie, those same choices carry over. Wallace’s useful position as a teacher at Neptune High and the needless and often somewhat unbelievable romance between Logan and Veronica are examples of contrived plot points that feel like they were thrown in for the fans. And that’s what it all boils down to: this is a book for the fans. Much of the delight in reading The Thousand Dollar Tan Line comes from spending time with these characters. There is adequate explanation of important relationships, but much will be lost if the reader can’t draw on the characters’ shared history for reference. Dick Casablancas’ whirlwind appearance is a good example of a scene that will only be of note to Veronica Mars fans.

Ultimately there’s little here to lift the novel above the best episodes of the television show – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. The plot is interesting and well paced. The characters are true to form. There are interesting developments for our heroes that will leave fans wanting more. As a first venture into the Veronica Mars series of mystery novels it acts as a fantastic and mostly memorable tale about family and greed. A must-read for all marshmallows.

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