'Veronica Mars' Should Continue…In Book Form
Last month, Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell and creator Rob Thomas did their semi-annual rounds, reaffirming their sustained interest in creating more stories about the former teen detective.
'We thought we were incredibly close not too long ago and a couple of business things got in the way, that neither Kristen nor I could control,' Thomas said about reviving the property. 'So we're biding our time, but we have an idea for what we want to do and we're eager to do.'
Fans rejoiced at the not-quite-news, rooting for a miniseries, another feature film or even a new season of the brilliant but short-lived show. And while there’s really no scenario in which I’d turn up my nose at the chance to see Bell reprise the pint-sized PI on the big screen or small, I’m here to stump for the little guy in the Veronica Mars Returns Sweepstakes: the books.
On March 25, 2014, Thomas teamed up with author Jennifer Graham to deliver Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line for Random House’s Vintage Books. The novel features Veronica back in Neptune, working as a private investigator after the events of the just-released film, a project funded in part by the franchise’s rabid fans in an historic Kickstarter campaign. The Thousand Dollar Tan Line was followed up in January 2015 with Graham and Thomas’ Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell, with the second sequel taking place nine months after the film.
Thomas has said that the novels are canon for the franchise:
It would be my hope that, if we got to do any more movies, either these books could be turned into movies, or that the events in these books are reflected in whatever future projects we do.
And they feel like canon. The best thing I can say about the Veronica Mars novels is that they feel like a really great, marginally extended episode of Veronica Mars. Actually, that’s not true. The best thing I can say about the Veronica Mars books is that they’re solid entries in the celebrated genre of detective fiction… that also happen to feel like a great episode of Veronica Mars. The mysteries are punchy and well-paced, each peppered with maddeningly compelling red herrings before landing on two quite satisfying conclusions.
There’s a real sense of place in the books, a Neptune even more tangible than the one we once saw onscreen. The Thousand Dollar Tan Line opens with a description that would sell me on any mystery – deeply steeped in noir traditions, colorful and sardonic and filled with dread.
The buses began to roll into Neptune, California, late Friday afternoon and didn’t slow up until Monday. They arrived dusty, windshields speckled with dead insects and fractures from stray flying stones, the chaos of the interstate. They pulled in along the boardwalk, trembling with pent-up noise, shivering like dogs waiting for a command.
And the dialogue is perfect. Of course, dialogue has always been Thomas’ cup of tea, with some of the best TV one-liners appearing on Veronica Mars, Party Down and even his more commercially palatable and therefore somewhat less thrilling iZombie. We can hear these characters speak their lines as surely as if the actors themselves were reading them to us – which in the case of Bell is true, as she does a charming job performing the audiobook version of Tan Line and even gives a go at capturing the verbal tics of actors like Enrico Colantoni, Daran Norris and Tina Majorino.
Here’s a snippet from Mr. Kiss and Tell that demonstrates both the book’s strong handle on Marsian prose and its tongue-in-cheek nods to its own gumshoe heritage.
She clicked through different windows, marking the woman’s path. The camera in the elevator gave a closer and sharper view of her features than those in the lobby. ‘Oh, you kid! Opal blue eyes, heart-shaped face, bee-stung lips – insert 1930s Variety prose here.’
But here’s the rub, the area in which most Marshmallows (the cutesy self-given fan title inspired by a line in the series’ pilot) will likely disagree with me: both The Thousand Dollar Tan Line and Mr. Kiss and Tell are a bit too preoccupied with fan service for my liking. It’s the same reason I don’t necessarily need further adventures of Veronica onscreen, as they will undoubtedly include scenes of tortured romance between Veronica and her on-again/off-again soulmate Logan (Jason Dohring).
Give me mystery. Give me noir. Give me wisecracking from a perky private dick and her team of sidekicks (namely Wallace, Mac, Cliff and Keith). Keep the long-lost love and the ceaseless references back to episodes we’ve all watched a hundred times.
Veronica Mars has the potential to be a hell of a detective series operating in the same sphere as the best of Hard Case Crime: pulpy, gritty and slim. Its best chance at storytelling success is to leave behind the albatross of exacting fandom and move forward with a progression of slick, readable one-off mysteries featuring a snarky, genius detective and her pals. Fans will never let the show (or movie, or miniseries) off so easy, but they seem to have left the books alone, for better or worse. While the books deserve more attention than they've received, at least that fan neglect has given them the freedom to be what the show could have been from the beginning: more about the mystery, less about the history.
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