★ ★ ★
I picked up this book after a book group friend raved about the Veronica Mars television series. Jumping in without knowing anything about the show or the character, I was strongly reminded of another series–not the television Veronica Mars, but another famous young adult female detective.
Yes, that one.
Of course, this is Nancy for the new millennium. With Drew’s long history of updates, Veronica Mars reminds me of the 1958-1979 vintage, my adolescent book obsession (I’m sure there’s a box somewhere with books 1-104). Veronica is updated, at least, in the sense of adding about seven years, and a willingness to be involved in rape cases, a type of investigation that never seemed to come Nancy’s way. But they both have a serious case of daddy-worship, a seriously clever, hunky, Dudley-Do-Right boyfriend, and a tendency to be both brainy and sincere. Mars, however, seems less logical, involves the police more frequently, and lacks Nancy’s dogged persistence.
On its own, Mr Kiss and Tell is a serviceable mystery centered on a likeable female character. It avoids many of the chick-lit cliches–I can’t think of when Veronica described her own clothes–and although there was the whiff of a love triangle, it wasn’t even close to the focus of the story. Writing was serviceable, generally above-average for the genre, but didn’t stand out in beauty or ability to evoke emotion. I enjoyed the characterization, and thought characters had a nice degree of dimensionality. The setting worked as well with enough detail to individuate scenes. Narrative switched a number of times, including using that old tv classic of following an unrelated character to the crime scene. Although that can be a cheap way to add drama, in this case changing voices helped to nicely round out Veronica’s father.
I suspect the real appeal here is the continuation of the Veronica Mars story, judging from the reviews and pre-sqees I saw on Goodreads. With that in mind, it seems to be a definite continuation of the tv series story arc, including dealing with an unethical sheriff and references to prior mysteries she’s solved. As a new reader, the references didn’t bother me, particularly since Graham didn’t get bogged down in explano-babble, and the longer arc added interesting aspect to the story.
What didn’t work quite as well for me was the plot (spoiler/specifics below the break) and how generally uncommitted Veronica seemed towards solving the mystery. For instance, she delegates serious computer research to friend Mac, who is far more diligent in combing through the material. Veronica admits at least twice that she was giving up on the case, because her phone calls weren’t returned and the police wouldn’t help her. It seemed pretty half-assed for a girl detective, who by rights should be more determined as the path she is choosing is so unusual, as we’re told fairly often by Veronica, her dad and her boyfriend. Plotting had the feel of a television script; weak on the logic, big on dramatic scenes.
Overall, I’d highly recommend it to fans of Veronica Mars. And ones who want a newer Nancy Drew.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday for a review copy.
Character strangeness: Veronica and her father have a detective agency and near the beginning of the book, she even allows someone to consider her a partner. Yet, later in the book, she acknowledges that she’s dropped any pretense of doing work on the agency’s cases, even losing one of the jobs and a $2000 retainer. Perhaps its supposed to be the move of a young person finding her way, but what it mostly seems is inconsistent with a young woman that is actively choosing a detection career, has serious admiration for her dad and comes from a background of economic struggle. It seemed off.
Plotting: A serious part of her problem-solving strategy seems to be obtaining DNA samples from the suspects. In one case, it leads to a seriously elaborate deception that might affect a friend’s career, as well as that of high-school star. WTH? Nancy would never do that.
More importantly, at a couple of spots in the investigation, she her cover is blown, and she comes right out and states her ‘real reason’ for being there. From there, she miraculously avoids having the cops called on her, and instead, the victims give away critical information, or Veronica is able to help herself to the information on the way out. So… getting caught is your investigative technique?
Resolution is partly provided by a series of particularly helpful cops, as well as a tough guy willing to beat the information out of a suspect. It’s enough that Veronica–and the reader–feel justice is served with a little extra flourish without having to negotiate the icky responsibility of murder.