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Monday, September 1, 2014

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Vintage, 336 pages, $15.95

As far as mystery books go, this is pretty good. As far as books spawned by TV shows go, this is very good. About ten years ago, “Veronica Mars” was an above-average television show that lasted three seasons. Veronica was a teenage sleuth, but she was nobody’s Nancy Drew. This was definitely a contemporary series with a deeper layer.

In the first season of the show, Veronica’s mother had just abandoned her family and moved to goodness-knows-where. Veronica’s best friend (and also sister of her boyfriend) had been murdered. Her father was the sheriff of Neptune, California, a fictional upscale seaside community. Because he dared to accuse the father of the murdered girl — one of the richest and most powerful men in the community — of having something to do with the murder, Keith Mars was unceremoniously run out of office. He subsequently opened up a private investigation firm, with Veronica as his assistant. Her first big case was figuring out who killed her best friend.

Ten years later and with the help of crowd-sourced funding, “Veronica Mars” went big time as a movie, released last year. The present-day Veronica is a Stanford graduate and high-powered attorney in New York City. She had left Neptune behind. Except, of course, she is the only one who can save a former boyfriend from an accusation of murder back in Neptune.

“Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” picks up after the movie. Veronica has re-settled in Neptune, given up her high-paying job, and given in to her passion for investigating, finagling, and making the bad guys pay. Because her father is recovering from injuries (sustained in the story told in the movie), it is up to Veronica, best friend Wallace, and second best friend Mac to make sure the bills are paid.

When spring break hits Neptune, the college kids are going wild. A young girl is reported missing days after she disappeared. (Her belatedly sober friends have suddenly noticed that they haven’t seen her recently.) With a do-nothing sheriff in office (her father’s lame successor's lame brother), there’s very little police investigation. Neptune’s Chamber of Commerce knows that missing teenage girls are not good for business, so they hire Veronica to find her.

Pretty soon there’s another girl missing. This one has a personal connection to Veronica, so she uses all her wiles, connections, Mac’s hacking skills, and Wallace’s good nature to track the coeds down.

When the television show “Castle” was novelized, although I enjoyed the books, they were “Castle” scripts with poorly added narration to bridge the dialogue. I expected something similar for “Veronica Mars.” Jennifer Graham (a Portland, Oregon, Reed College graduate!) has taken the mythology created by show producer Rob Thomas and given it depth and life in this novel. What a pleasant surprise!

Even without having seen the television show or movie, readers can immediately become involved in the story because Graham deftly presents all the ins-and-outs of the various characters. She even manages to avoid awkward pauses in the current story while she relates what happened in the past.

Veronica Mars is a legitimate grown-up and kick-ass p.i.

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