Book Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

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I normally wouldn’t read television series tie-in books but when I saw a Veronica Mars book on the shelf of my local Target, I was excited. After all, it was Veronica Mars. I’ve watched the television show (many times over), I’ve bought the DVDs, I’ve seen the movie (also many times over). And now there is a book series that continues where the movie left off and promising original mysteries so I was prepared to give it a go. Plus I just finished a book that was very serious and I wanted something lighter and that’s certainly what I got.

The book I actually saw on the shelf in Target was Mr Kiss and Tell, the second Veronica Mars book. I didn’t realise The Thousand Dollar Tan Line even existed until I got home and googled the book I’d bought. So instead of reading them out of order, I bought the ebook of the first novel. Look out for the review of the second book next week.

Let’s start with the authors. Even though both Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham are listed as the book’s authors, I suspect Jennifer Graham did the majority of the hard work. In most cases, this would be where I would give her the credit she’s due. Except that despite this being a continuation of the stories and characters in the Veronica Mars universe, it lacks the snappy, witty, tough as nails touch that I remember from the TV show and the movie. The individual characters don’t seem much like themselves. Only Cliff McCormack, during his short appearance, made me smile and think, “That’s the Cliff that I remember.”

The book picks up two months after the movie finished. Keith, Veronica’s father, is still recuperating from serious injuries after being in a car accident and Veronica is attempting to keep his private investigation agency going in his absence. All the regular characters make an appearance in one way or another. Mac, the technology genius, has quit her boring job at Kane Software and is working as Veronica’s receptionist and hacker. Wallace is still coaching. Logan is on deployment with the Navy but logs on for some patchy Skype time. Sheriff Dan Lamb, brother of the now deceased former Sheriff Don Lamb, runs the department and instead of being lazy and incompetent like his brother, is corrupt and incompetent.

The mystery is slow to get going but focuses on first one and then another teenage girl going missing from Neptune during spring break celebrations. Spring break brings in a considerable amount of revenue and the apparent abductions are keeping college students away. So the Chamber of Commerce hires Veronica to find the missing girls, knowing the incompetent sheriff isn’t up to the task.

It wouldn’t be a Veronica Mars mystery if she didn’t outsmart everyone and solve the whodunit in the end. But the only reason that Veronica is able to solve it is that literally no one else actually seems to do any investigating. The Sheriff’s Department doesn’t follow up a single lead, leaving them all for Veronica. If they had, they would have solved the case themselves without too much trouble because it’s not much of a mystery. It lacks the intricate detail and conspiracies of the TV show and the “Will she, won’t she?” of the movie.

The book spends a lot of time trying to justify why a smart woman with a law degree and a guaranteed career in the FBI or any law firm of her choosing in any other city in the US chooses to remain in Neptune and chase small-time crooks. It doesn’t succeed.

It’s also squarely aimed at a teenage market. But the teenagers who watched Veronica Mars have all grown up (just like Veronica herself, who’s now twenty-eight) and want a book that can satisfy the grown-ups as well.

Ultimately, it feels like an attempt to cash in on the goodwill the TV series and movie established but it doesn’t pay homage so much as it rests on its laurels. It relies on stupidity instead of being clever. The characters aren’t any different at the end of the book from the way they are at the start. And the only real accomplishment is enough money to keep the agency running for another few months. Hardly crucial reading or important storytelling in the Veronica Mars timeline.

The ending particularly annoyed me because even though Keith gives Veronica a gun and tells her she has to learn to use it if she is going to play with the big boys, she still requires saving instead of being able to save herself. It’s a major flaw in someone who has chosen to be a private investigator.

I recognise that I’m being harsh but only because the TV series especially and the movie to a slightly lesser extent set such a high standard that hasn’t been reached in this book. I’m happy to read the next instalment but if it’s more of the same then I probably won’t read any future books in the series.

3 stars

*First published on Goodreads 25 September 2015

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