Book Review : Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham - Veronica Mars : The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (2014)
I got intensely into Veronica Mars a couple years back. It's a young adult detective series with a female protagonist that channels the genres' classics, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. It also has a fun California vibe. The show was short-lived (three seasons) and fans, such as myself, have been howling for more content ever since. There was a movie financed over Kickstarter three years ago, which was all right. It was like a hundred minutes-long episodes. The real potential of Veronica Mars' second life lied in the licensed novel that were published around the same time, though. Well, I've read both of them during my vacation and today, we'll discuss the first one: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.
And I have a lot to say.
The Thousand Dollar Tan Line picks up soon after the events of the movie. Veronica has settled back in Neptune and made peace with her vocation of following her father's footsteps, while Keith is still not at ease with it. Anyway, Veronica is visited by Petra Landros, ex-supermodel and owner of the Neptune Grand Hotel, who wants her to supplement the sheriff's investigation on a young girl's disappearance. It's Spring Break and any criminal activity that go beyond drunken brawls and small-time drug busts aren't good for business. A straightforward case by any means. Expect that by the time Veronica begins her investigation, ANOTHER girl freakin' disappears. Both vanished in a mansion owned by heirs to a Cartel family. It looks like a bad one.
Licensed novels can be tricky. In this case, the material (and perhaps the idea for the novel?) belongs to Veronica Mars' creator and showrunner Rob Thomas, but they were written by Jennifer Graham. So, there was some red tape along the way. The characters we all know and love aren't...doing much of anything in The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. They sure aren't involved in the case in any way: Logan is stationed in Iraq, Keith is still crippled from the accident that occurred in the movie, Weevil's in jail, Wallace is just, kind of there? Anyway, you get my point. Only Mac is actively involved in the narrative and her role is accessory at best. I have no problem with the actualy story told in The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, but it becomes a run-of-the-mill mystery since no one from the show is involved.
I mean, the mystery is definitely "Neptun-ian," two young girls disappearing during a shallow and expensive celebration of youthfulness. The new sheriff Lamb is also present in all his venal glory. There clearly was an effort made in that sense, but what made Veronica Mars such a powerful and original show was the incestuous nature of Neptune. Everybody was involved in each other's private bullshit. It was like high school, except city-wide. The social claustrophobia is not present in The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. It's a story about a professional cracking a tricky investigation with the help of her convenient computer wiz friend and that's about it. There is a plot twist I'm not going to spoil here, but it did little to make up for the impersonal nature of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.
So, who are the Veronica Mars novels targeted at? The obvious answers to that question is: die-hard fans of the show, but The Thousand Dollar Tan Line feels way too safe and non-committal to be satisfying. It's a technically sound novel that doesn't have much of a soul. I'm sure it's not Jennifer Graham's fault. She does her best with the cards she was dealt and shows she can write a solid mystery anyway. It's obvious that a condition for this novel be written was that no significant character development could happen. That's how it ended up being a middle-of-the-road, pleasant but forgettable novel. For licensed novels to be great and relevant to their creative universe, they need to come at the very end like the Star Wars novels originally did. It's not the case here. Does Rob Thomas have any idea of reviving the series? I guess we'll see.