Publishers: Vintage Books
Random House Audio
Publication Date – 25 March 2014
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I will be looking at the thrilling and enjoyable first tie-in novel to the Veronica Mars franchise, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.
Veronica Mars was a highly regarded (at least for the first two seasons) teen crime television series that aired for three seasons between 2004 and 2007. The show, staring Kristen Bell in her breakout role as the titular character, was an incredibly fun and compelling mixture of teen drama and serious investigation. Veronica Mars is a teenage private investigator who finds herself investigating the murder of her best friend, following a cover up by the town’s rich and powerful inhabitants. The first two seasons featured epic season-long mysteries, while the third season contained two half-season mysteries. Each episode also featured a mystery-of-the-week storyline that would often play some part in that season’s overarching storyline. In addition to the intriguing and complex mystery based storylines, fans of the show could also enjoy the heartfelt drama and romance between the show’s main characters, as well as the interesting social dichotomy of the show’s main location, Neptune, California. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after its third season, and fans were given an unsatisfactory and incomplete series finale.
However, due to support of the Veronica Mars hardcore fans, referred to as “Marshmallows”, as well as an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, the show was revived with a 2014 Veronica Mars feature film. This new movie was set nine years after the show’s third season and showed Veronica’s return to Neptune. The creators attempted to capitalise on the success of the Veronica Mars film by creating some additional material in the Veronica Mars universe. This included the meta web series Play it Again, Dick as well as two novels set in the aftermath of the movie. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line was the first of these novels released, coming out the same month as the Veronica Mars movie, while the second book, Mr. Kiss and Tell was published a year later in 2015. Both books were written by series creator Rob Thomas and short story author Jennifer Graham, and Thomas has stated that they are both considered to be cannon.
I only ended up watching the Veronica Mars show a few years ago, but found myself really getting into the excellent storylines and memorable characters. I managed to avoid any spoilers so I was able to enjoy the incredible mysteries of the first two seasons, both of which were very clever, with complicated and hard to predict solutions. After enjoying both the shows and the movies, I also decided to check out the associated books and obtained an audiobook copy of The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, which I have listened to several times. With the recent announcement of a Veronica Mars revival series airing in 2019 to be set five years after the events of the film, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to re-listen to and review The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line as part of my Throwback Thursday series. I am particularly interested to see if Thomas will continue to consider this book as canon when the new series of the show is released, as there are significant narrative developments that may prove hard to explain to those who haven’t read this book.
Neptune, California is usually the home of sun, sand, the ultra-rich, their low-income employees and a corrupt sheriff’s department. But something else has descended on Neptune: spring breakers. With busloads of college students descending on Neptune, the town has been turned into one long and boozy event. It’s all fun and games until one girl disappears from a party and her case is picked up by the conservative media as a call to action against Neptune and spring break.
After nine years away, Veronica Mars has returned to Neptune, the town where she experienced so many traumatic events. After saving her former/current boyfriend Logan from a murder investigation, Veronica has given up her career as a lawyer and has returned to her old addiction, private investigating. With her father still recovering from a suspicious car crash, Veronica has taken over Mars Investigations and is desperately trying to keep the business afloat with small, petty cases.
With the media storm around the missing girl intensifying, Veronica is called in to find her before Neptune’s spring break economy is ruined. Diving into the parties and sordid holiday fun, Veronica soon finds that the house that the girl disappeared from is owned by a dangerous pair of brothers with serious criminal connections. Though Veronica is convinced that the owners of the house are behind the disappearance, the case becomes even more complicated when a second girl disappears from the same house. Worse, the second girl has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past that will rock her to the core.
While it would have been easy for the authors just to create a lazy tie-in novel, Thomas and Graham actually created a complex and multi-layered mystery narrative that serves to keep the readers excited and guessing the entire time they are enjoying it. There is quite a lot going on within this mystery storyline, as for most of it, the protagonist is uncertain about what crime she is actually investigating. There are a lot of false leads, suspects, hidden clues and several pulse-pounding scenes in which Veronica finds her life threatened as she attempts to uncover a major break in the case. The final conclusion of the investigation is pretty clever and has a few sneaky twists that are hard to see coming. The authors also amp up the drama during certain parts of the book as Veronica is forced to confront some heavy subjects from her past, as well as the anger and despair of the people she is investigating. There is also further antagonism between Veronica and the towns’ corrupt sheriff, who Veronica is actively investigating for corruption, as well as a dramatic fight with her father, Keith, who is dismayed by his daughter’s decision to remain in Neptune as a private investigator, a decision which caused her much grief in the past.
One of the more interesting things about the original show was the social makeup of the fictional setting of the town of Neptune. In the show, Neptune is home to both a rich upper class, known as the “09ers” in reference to Neptune’s fictional postcode, and the people who work for them or are employed in the town’s businesses and local economy. As a result, several of the episodes of the original series focused on this discrepancy between these two distinct social classes, which was often represented by the rich students receiving unfair advantages at Neptune High. This was continued in the 2014 Veronica Mars movie, which showed that the sheriff’s department had become especially corrupt and were more focused on protecting the rich and powerful than arresting real criminals, as seen when they framed a side character, Weevil, with a planted gun. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line continues to explore how corrupt the city has become under the new sheriff, and how incompetent the police have become. This is shown early on in the book when Veronica is hired by the Neptune Chamber of Commerce to find the missing girls, as the town’s business leaders lack confidence in the sheriff’s investigative skills. When Veronica queries why they still support him, they make it clear that his policy of doing what the richer citizens want makes him a desirable tool. There are also some dark reveals about the serious crimes he turns a blind eye to in order to avoid confrontation and stay in power.
While there is less focus on the town’s social divide, the authors did add a new element to the plot of this Veronica Mars book: spring breakers. The plot of this book shows the town completely overrun with drunk, drugged-up and sexually excited college students keen to enjoy the beaches and parties of Neptune. Thomas and Graham pull no punches when it comes to these descriptions, attempting to fully encapsulate the chaotic and at times dangerous activities that the students get up to, often highlighting how their behaviour at times degenerates to the level of a drunken mob. This spring break background serves as an entertaining and intriguing background for the murder mystery storyline. There is a good amount of humour watching Veronica acting the part of a drunken sorority girl as she attempts to blend in with the crowd, as this is in complete opposition to her usual prickly demeanour. This spring break storyline will also be an interesting read for those planning to check out the upcoming revived season of Veronica Mars, which is apparently going to focus on a spring break serial killer which initiates a conflict between the upper and lower classes of the town.
As this is a tie-in book to a television and movie franchise, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line appeals to fans of Veronica Mars the most. Readers will be relieved to see that Veronica still maintains her trademark sarcasm and the jaded personality she developed at a young age when she learned how much other people sucked. This book is set only a few months after the Veronica Mars film, and shows the aftermaths of the events that occurred during it. Long-time Veronica Mars characters Wallace Fennel, Keith Mars and Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie all appear in the book in significant roles, while minor movie antagonist, Dan Lamb, returns in a similar role for this book. In addition, other popular characters like Logan Echolls, Dick Casablancas, Eli “Weevil” Navarro and Cliff McCormack have smaller roles within the book. While it is good to see them again, their minor appearances have mainly been added in for fan service. One of the most memorable things about this book for fans of the show are the significant developments that happen in Veronica’s personal life, as a character from her past returns with some massive changes. While these developments serve an important part of the book’s plot and offer some excellent and well-appreciated emotional moments, I will be very surprised if they carry through into the new season of the television show. Overall, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line serves as a fantastic addition to the Veronica Mars franchise and contains a huge number of elements that will prove extremely appealing to fans of the original show.
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is definitely one of those novels that is best enjoyed in its audiobook format. This is because the Rob Thomas and the producers of the audiobook were able to get Kristen Bell to come in and narrate this version of the book. As Kristen Bell does a bit of in-show narration, it makes sense for her to continue it here, with Veronica serving as the only point-of-view character. Having her narrate the actions of the book and everything she sees makes it feel a lot like the television show and gives it a natural and authentic feel. It was also pretty amusing to hear Bell do the voices of her co-stars from the shows and movies throughout the book. I think she does a pretty good job of her narration of the other character’s voices, as there are distinctive approximations of all the relevant characters, in addition to new voices for the exclusive book characters. Overall, if fans of this franchise are keen to experience a new Veronica Mars adventure, this is their best option. Written by the show’s creator and voiced by its lead actresses, the audiobook version of The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is essentially just another episode of the show, and is the best way for fans of the Veronica Mars show to enjoy. At 8 hours 43 minutes, it is a quick audiobook to get through.
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is an excellent piece of the amazing Veronica Mars franchise which presents the reader with a continuation of this fun universe and allows fans of the show to see what happens next to their favourite characters. Featuring a clever and intricate central mystery that twists and turns in multiple unexpected ways, this book is a fantastic read as told by its iconic protagonist. Best enjoyed in its audiobook format with the voice of Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, narrating the story, this is a recommended read for all fans of the fans of the show, and may prove to be an intriguing introduction for newcomers to the franchise.