The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Normally, I take a couple days (weeks) between when I finish a book and when I write the review. Mostly, this is a timing issue, but it’s also a mulling period. Sometimes, I just like to get some distance from what I’ve read to really figure out how I feel about it. This is not the case with Thomas’ first Veronica Mars novel (this book actually has two authors, but I’m going to refer to Thomas because it’s easier). Do I really need to take that much time to think about a bunch of characters I already know I love and a writing style that I already know I’m sold on? Nope. I literally closed the book on this one minutes before I started writing this. I am a huge fan of the Veronica Mars franchise, so this is a totally biased review. Remember when I listed my favourite minor characters? You can only do that if you’ve spent enough time with the show to know the minor characters off the top of your head. I love the tv show. I love the movie. I rewatch both of them all the time. I even love the spotty, uneven third season and its strange twist on the theme song (which I did not hate – even though everyone else seemed to). I’ll give most of Thomas’ projects a chance (go watch Party Down, just do it). However, I was hesitant to go into the books. I tend to shy away from the spin off books for series I like – they’re rarely relevant to the story and often end up confusing the cannon. I only decided to pick up this book because a friend of mine who also loves the Mars family had read it and said it was worth it.

I trust her opinion on books basically 100% of the time. This one was no different. Because the mythos of this world is so ingrained on my fangirlness, it was easy to jump right into the story. I didn’t need to get to know the characters or the town and its cast of characters. It made some of the world building a little annoying, but new fans are good fans and they need this info. The novel picks up just months after the movie ended – if you’re planning to read the book, you must watch the movie first. It’s crucial to the story, especially if you watched the tv show. Also, if you haven’t read the book yet, stop reading reviews before you read the book, that’s just a silly order to do things in (cough cough spoilers). So, Veronica and Logan have gotten back together, but he’s in the Navy and he’s off at sea for the entirety of this novel. At first, I was a little sadface, no Logan girl, but as I kept reading, I realized it was nice to have a Logan free storyline. That hasn’t happened since what, first season? Logan and Veronica are delightful, but they often steal the thunder of the mystery. I wanted a good, noir style read. Dark alleys, girls in ice machines, stolen art, seedy motels, rich dudes gone bad. And that’s exactly what I got – not exactly, but close enough.

Veronica agrees to take a case to help the Neptune City Council fix their tourist problem when a young girl goes missing during spring break. She has to work in conjunction with the corrupt and seriously challenging Sherriff Lamb – brought to life so perfectly by Jerry O’Connell – and has to find her way around his obstacles. Mac has left her job with the devil, I mean Kane Software, and is now Mars Investigations resident background information gatherer. But money is tight, and before this job comes along, Veronica isn’t sure how much longer she’ll be able to keep the doors open. As loathe as she may be to work with Lamb, this is the only way she know to keep things going while her dad recovers.

Immediately after Veronica starts investigation, another girl goes missing from a party in the same house where Haley Dewalt went missing. This second girl, Aurora Scott, amps up the problems for the city, the Sherriff’s department, and me. This is a personal problem. Dewalt is the misspelling of my brother-in-law’s last name. No big deal. It’s also a major power tool company. But the father’s name in the book is Mike. And so is my b-i-l. And I have a niece named Aurora. And we call her Rory. And there are just some weird and creepy overlaps that made this story a bit strange for me. People outside my family will probably not run into this problem. It was just a little… Anyway, back to the story.

A second girl is missing and Veronica has to meet with her family, trouble is, Aurora’s step-mother is also Veronica’s mother. Lianne Mars – now Scott – is sober and married with a teen step-daughter and a biological six-year-old son, Hunter. So, not only does Veronica have to try to find two teen girls before they’re hurt or killed, she also has to deal with direct contact with her mother – whom she hasn’t spoken to in over a decade-, and with the discovery that she has a brother a quarter century younger than her. This is how we do a VM mystery – central mystery and a buttload of personal crap to thicken everything up. It’s like a hearty stew. All the best VM episodes were the ones where she or Keith had major personal hurdles to overcome.

Here are the things I liked about the novel:

First – we had the deke out red herring of the Mexican cartels. I’m really glad that the story didn’t go in that direction. Veronica is always – always! – getting in over her head, and I do not believe she would have been able to talk her way out of a mess with a notoriously violent cartel. There is only so much suspension of disbelief one can have. Thomas was able to set up a scene where you were actually fearful for Veronica’s life (you know, as much as you can be knowing there are a couple hundred pages left) when one of the cousins holds her a knife point during a coked out, paranoid rage and still manages to get her out of it in a totally believable way. This is one of the things Thomas does really well. He knows when coincidence works, when Ronnie would talk herself out of something, and when someone needs to step in and be the architect of her rescue.

Second – there is a payment. One of the girls dies. She was dead before Veronica was even hired. Before anyone knew she was missing. She could never have been saved. And her death was caused by a jealous ex-boyfriend. This wasn’t some grand scheme where the two girls are kidnapped or some serial killer. This was a girl who tried to make her ex-boyfriend jealous to get him back and went a little too far. These thing, unfortunately, happen all the time.

Third – I suspected the ransom demands were hoaxes. The amounts were exactly the same as the amounts made by the save so-and-so funds? Too much of a coincidence. But I hadn’t guessed it was the girl’s father, and I certainly hadn’t guessed she was involved in con from the onset. What kind of father sees that a girl has gone missing from a Spring Break town and sits down with his sixteen-year-old daughter and comes up with a plan to scam people out of money by pretending she’s been subjected to the same fate? Excellent plan, Rob Thomas. Excellent plan. It made the two stories work together without making it feel forced or coincidental.

Next – there is an opportunity for smaller characters from the show to make comebacks in the book when they couldn’t logically do it in the movie. Norris Clayton is one my favourite characters from the series, but he would have had no place in the movie – especially with Theo Rossi’s SoA make over. Now he’s a cop in Neptune. There’s no way we’re not seeing him again. Ronnie is always having run-ins with the SD. And she needs a new inside man now that Sacks is dead (one of the saddest moments of the entire series. Honesty).

Finally – Veronica’s absolute disdain of the media coverage of the missing girls, especially the Trish Turley show. These shows make me angry in my heart. They thrive off the pain of others. They are the absolute lowest of the low. They’re worse than the criminals they sensationalize because they rely on crime. They need crime to make their living – and not in the way cops do. But, I’ve already ranted about this in my post about Dangerous Girls. And since that was just last week, let’s not rehash. Modern crime reporting – terrible!

So, there are a lot of things I really liked about this book, but I don’t know if everyone will feel this way. If you’ve never watched the show, maybe you won’t get it. Maybe you won’t connect to the surly, angry, lovable Veronica. Maybe Mac won’t win your heart, because you weren’t there when she scammed a bunch of awful rich kids out of their allowance. You might not get that Wallace as a teacher is a natural extension of his ability to sneak a student’s file. You might not understand that Keith is the best fictional dad ever. But maybe you will.

Not everything about the book was perfect – there are some pop culture references that will date the material pretty quickly, but not enough of them to be overarching in their terribleness. The Dewalt family just disappears. Veronica never ties anything up with them. They end on a strange note and almost feel like they’re forgotten in the shadow of Lianne. There was also some repetitive information in the story. The references to how long she’s been gone. How long since she’s seen her mother. How long. How long. How long. There were just too many of them. I know we needed them for the new readers, but if they need that many reminders, they should probably move to simpler books.

Thomas kept the book true to the show. We got to live with Veronica for a longer period of time – I liked that a lot. The books let us expand from the couple of days an episode can take place over. I felt like we got more. My biggest problem – now I have to wait months for the next book! It was bad enough when you had to wait a week. And now that I’ve had an influx of fresh VM, the waiting feels like torture. I can’t wait to see who shows up in the next book. If someone wants to send me an advanced copy, I’d be eternally grateful!

And Mr. Thomas, if, at some point, you maybe want to revisit that secret society thing that had to disappear at the end of season three, I would not complain. That painting of Lilly still haunts my dreams.

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3 thoughts on “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

  1. Yay! I had so many of the same feels as you in regards to this book! Good modern noir is hard to find, but Rob Thomas just gets it. I really enjoyed the reappearance of Lianne; she was one of the characters from the show that I was really curious about. I’ve heard that Logan will appear in the next novel, so I’m both nervous and excited about that.

    • I was on the bus when her reappearance was revealed. I almost swore out loud and missed my stop! I had kind of forgotten about get, so it was not someone I was expecting to reappear in the first book.

      • Her reappearance was definitely a huge surprise! I always read in bed and I’m pretty sure her appearance kept me awake.

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