New mystery requires no TV or movie knowledge

When I told my fiancée Sarah that I was going to read a book based on the “Veronica Mars” TV show and movie, she rolled her eyes. I understood her skepticism. Books based on TV shows or movies are usually not worth the paper they are printed on and are certainly not worth extra paper to review them.

Yet, “Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” (Random House, $15.95) was different. The book is collaboratively written by Rob Thomas, the creator and writer of the “Veronica Mars” TV show and the movie, and Jennifer

Graham, a Reed College alumnus. It is a strong mystery that could stand on its own even without the TV show and movie.

A bit of the backstory on the “Veronica Mars” phenomenon: It began as a TV show in 2004 about a teenage private eye. It became a cult classic, but ran only three years before it was canceled, plotlines unfinished. In 2013 a Kickstarter campaign netted more than $5 million in donations from fans to get a movie made. The movie, which picks up 10 years after the series ended, was released earlier this month.

Stephen King described the character of Veronica Mars as “Nancy Drew meets Philip Marlowe,” and the book remains true to most of what made the show and the movie captivating.

The book picks up a few months after the movie left off with Veronica running her father’s P.I. company. It is spring break in the fictional town of Neptune, Calif. Amidst the decadent partying, a girl goes missing. With the inept Neptune sheriff unable to handle the investigation, Veronica is called in to unravel the mystery, which becomes more complicated as the story progresses.

The book is far darker than either the series or the movie, taking on a deliciously noir tone. Veronica’s life is in peril on several occasions. The language is much coarser than could be heard on TV or in a PG-13 movie.

One of the best things about the show was the dialogue. While the book tried to make Veronica witty, it fell short. In fairness, perhaps the reason the dialogue in the show and movie was so entertaining was the adorably sassy way the lines were delivered by Kristen Bell, who played Veronica. (As a side note, Bell narrates the audiobook, and it would be interesting to hear whether she is able to bring the dialogue to life).

That said, the book makes up for the dialogue by getting inside Veronica’s head in a way the show and movie never could have. The third-person voice Thomas and Graham have developed for Veronica is pitch perfect.

After the show and movie spent so much time focusing on Veronica’s relationship with her on-again/off-again boyfriend Logan Echolls, it was disappointing that the book left him by the wayside. Logan, on military duty, appears just twice in video chats with Veronica. However, the book does include cameo appearances by fan favorites such as Wallace Fennel (Veronica’s best friend), Weevil Navarro (the former biker gang leader with a heart of gold) and Dick Casablancas (the goofy frat boy).

Computer genius “Mac” takes on a large role. Veronica’s relationship with her father is not quite as interesting as it was in the show or movie, but it serves its purpose. The book also brings back a character from Veronica’s past. And while I will not spoil the surprise, Veronica’s relationship with the character becomes the emotional axis on which the story turns.

The best thing the book has going for it is the plot. Had the show and movie never existed, the story could stand on its own in the world of P.I. mysteries.

“Marshmallows” — what Mars fans call themselves — will love it and it’s a good enough story to turn someone unfamiliar with Veronica Mars into a Marshmallow.

Contract Publishing

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