Having broken Kickstarter records with the fan-funded motion picture continuation of his cancelled television show, it was clear creator Rob Thomas wasn’t going to stop there, so his announcement that the next story would take Veronica Mars into the natural home of the private detectives who inspired her was no surprise. Written by Jennifer Graham from an outline Thomas had originally intended to form the basis for the movie had the production been realised sooner after the final episode, she has captured the feel of the show and the characters.
Set only weeks after the events of the film it is the season of spring breakers, that most affluent of subspecies of American college students who when mid-term strikes aren’t obligated to work or study but instead to party, to wreak havoc on whichever beach town they descend upon like locusts. Their appetites for alcohol only limited by the depth of their parents’ pockets, when a group of girls realise one of their number has not returned after a night of revelry and does not return their calls, they try to raise the alarm.
With the Neptune police disinterested in the case without specific evidence a crime has been committed, Neptune’s Chamber of Commerce hire Mars Investigations to probe further and locate missing Hayley Dewalt before her disappearance affects tourist revenues. With her father still on a leave of absence as he recuperates from an accident, Veronica takes the case, starting in the last place Hayley was seen, the nightly party scene.
Neptune has always been a town where the sparks are generated by the friction between the haves and have-nots, and inside the exclusive mansion where “every room burned with light and luxury,” teenage girls parading themselves in bikinis for the howling crowds hoping to win the cash of the titular prize, the rich still control those who wish to enter their orbit, but finding the beach house is owned by a family connected to a Mexican drug cartel, Veronica realises she could be in out of her depth.
As the first ever Veronica Mars novel published, the pressure is on, but that’s where the tiny blonde one has always thrived, and with a subplot more closely tied with Veronica’s past it is clear that this story would not have worked so successfully in a standalone film as the script eventually developed. As a result the first chapters overemphasise a backstory familiar to the target audience yet which could be picked up by newcomers from the narrative without spoonfeeding, but fortunately when the investigation begins Veronica displays her customary shine, the clues falling into place as she deftly asks the right questions.
With every page headed by the legend THOMAS AND GRAHAM as though the book was a terse brief from a law firm, the style is basic teen thriller with no flourishes and playing no narrative games, in many ways reflecting the no-nonsense directness of Veronica herself, but that is beside the point which is the story, and here the game is very much afoot.
Declared a part of the show canon, the official “what Veronica did next,” without a clear avenue of continuation for the show beyond these novels should this first release be successful lays open the fate of the characters. With no safety net of a continuing show, there is a genuine sense of danger in the realisation that Veronica could be seriously hurt as Keith was in the film.
On every page save the scene-setting prologue, it is undeniably Veronica’s story, nothing shown from any other point of view, but all the supporting players are given their moment and the voices of the regulars are perfect, Wallace clutching his extra-large pizza box as he declares “men gotta eat.” The limited roster of characters means the possibilities of guilt are limited and the slower unfolding of a book allows the reader perhaps too much time to join the dots, but even when the inevitable rug-pull comes it’s not quite as expected whose hands are on the cash.
Veronica Mars – The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is available now