Veronica Mars – Mr. Kiss and Tell – Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

“In Neptune, the past was always grabbing your ankles, trying to pull you back.” It’s always been true for Veronica Mars, and she has more past than most, her best friend murdered when she was back at high school, her father the sheriff who tried to pursue the case even when it led where it wasn’t supposed to, back to the richest and most powerful families of Neptune, the deeply divided Californian city which doesn’t have a middle class.

Picking up several months after Veronica solved the high profile kidnapping which was her last major case, she is summoned back to the corridors of the Neptune Grand hotel by Petra Landros who requires her services again, this time for a case which received considerably less publicity. Across town, a young woman, beaten, raped, left for dead in a ditch, was miraculously found alive and taken to hospital. The police had taken her statement, but with memory loss from the concussion and her unwillingness to identify the married lover she was supposed to have met the night before, little investigation took place. Over time, flashes of recall have come to her, and she claims she is now able to identify her attacker as an employee of the Neptune Grand, recently deported as an illegal immigrant.

On paper, the case is simple: disprove the allegations and clear the hotel of their liability should it be proved they illegally employed the man who attacked the young woman. But for Veronica, it’s never so simple, with her sympathies automatically falling to the victim who she has been asked to discredit, a situation further complicated when she learns the name of the victim, a name from her distant past who she once failed when she a girl to whom she now feels a debt of obligation.

Written by Jennifer Graham from an outline by series creator Rob Thomas, this is once again pure Veronica Mars and is the “official” follow-up to both the television series and the Kickstarted film spinoff of last year, with all the strengths and inevitable weaknesses of that premise. As before, continuity is observed, picking up the loose ends left dangling, with Eli “Weevil” Navarro’s court case against Celeste Kane and the Neptune Police Department reaching its final stages, and the characters are perfectly captured in every line, Weevil resenting the necessity of buying a suit for the trial, an incomprehensible process for someone who has lived their life hand-to-mouth: “It’s a lotta money to spend on pants that don’t fit. And then you gotta spend more to get them fixed?”

With three explicit references to the implications of the verdict on multiple previous cases involving allegedly falsely planted evidence in the first forty pages, the accused all with prior convictions and unable to finance long legal battles to clear their names, the early chapters would have benefited from tighter editing, though fortunately that is a rare lapse in the fast flowing but often superficial prose. The short page count and large print mean little time for cameos, though most of the (surviving) usual suspects make an appearance, the exception being that there is only the slightest whiff of Dick Casablancas, with Veronica questioning boyfriend Logan whether his own absence was due to “another homoerotic beach volleyball emergency” with his BFF.

Veronica has always been a lightning rod for trouble, and while she may be the Nancy Drew of the digital age her novel life remains as light as that of her family friendly predecessor even when she visits the dark places of Neptune’s thriving online red light district. Deferring the possibility of becoming serious crime fiction, the style is still stubbornly young adult, likely in deference to the fact that the original show may still be gathering new fans amongst those who it was originally targeted at, though for those who followed the show since it debuted in September 2004 and have regrettably gathered another decade it is frustrating while also being a charming step back to reassuring familiarity.

Some of the clues come too easily, such as enhanced video surveillance footage revealing a previously unaccounted for vehicle in the hotel parking lot, but this is balanced in some way by Veronica’s admission to the lovely Lieutenant Leo D’Amato that “we’re not half as good as people give us credit for” as she expresses her frustrations with the case and her own insecurities, not helped by the emancipated attitudes of the ever reliable Sheriff Dan Lamb when Veronica finds evidence of other victims who were reticent to report their experiences: “If she’s a prostitute, it’s not rape so much as shoplifting.”

Like The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, Mr. Kiss and Tell tells a complete story which acknowledges the context it exists within and clearly points the way forward to an anticipated third prose adventure for Neptune’s finest father/daughter private eye team, for next time the indications are that it’s not just Veronica’s past which will be examined but Keith’s too, as a colleague from long ago has returned to challenge Sheriff Dan Lamb, but most exciting is the new addition taking up time in Veronica’s life, having proudly adopted a Pony.

Veronica Mars – Mr. Kiss and Tell is available now from Vintage Books



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