Despite their obvious differences–fifth book in an ongoing series; first book in a projected series, based on a TV show and movie; standalone by a master of horror–the three books under review today share something more in common than their detective fiction trappings. All three should take little to no prodding to fly off your shelves, as they all come with established fan bases.
First up is Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. Anyone who was paying to pop culture news last year should remember the Kickstarter.com project to fund the Veronica Mars movie. Fans of the cult teen-PI TV show made the movie the fastest Kickstarter project to reach $1 million and the third highest-funded Kickstarter project ever. The film came out earlier this year to largely positive reviews, and Rob Thomas (the creator of the TV show, writer and director of the film, and YA hero for his novel Rats Saw God) quickly followed it up with news of this novel.
The novel, co-written by Jennifer Graham, picks up after the events of the film, and reads pretty much exactly like an episode of the TV show (in fact, the audiobook is narrated by Kristen Bell, the star of the show who provided voice-over narration for every episode). And just as the TV show and movie, it neatly intertwines the travails of our plucky heroine and her seedy hometown of Neptune, CA with a fascinating mystery. Needless to say, fans should flock to this, and will be happy to hear that another novel in the series is due at the end of the year.
Next up is a man who needs no introduction, Stephen King. I mentioned his new book, Mr. Mercedes, in my post on Alex Award winners, and now here it is. As our reviewer states, despite King’s reputation as a horror-master, this book is detective fiction, with a healthy dash of psychological thriller. Read it.
Finally, we have the newest book in the Patrik Hedstrom series by Camilla Lackberg. Last year we featured a post giving you a run-down of everything that’s happened in the series up till now. Now, we come to the fifth book in the series, Hidden Child, which takes us further into the domestic life of Patrik and Erica, while at the same time taking a turn for the darker in the mystery itself.
THOMAS, Rob and Jennifer Graham. Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. 324p. Vintage. Jul. 2014. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780804170703. LC 2014001174.
Picking up a few weeks after the end of the famously Kickstarted film Veronica Mars, this first in a projected series follows Veronica as she struggles to reestablish herself in her hometown of Neptune, California, and solve a couple of mysteries along the way. The mystery in this novel surrounds the disappearance of two girls from the same Spring Break party house, a week apart, one of whom turns out to be Veronica’s stepsister. Fans of the film and the TV show on which it was based will be delighted by the presence of most of their favorite characters: tech-savvy and sarcastic Mac, ever-faithful Wallace, surfer-dude Dick, and of course Veronica’s father Keith Mars. These characters, especially their dialogue, are every bit as interesting as they were in the series, but fans of Thomas’s YA novels shouldn’t expect the same level of immaculate prose. The novel does rely on readers’ prior knowledge and goodwill, but the mystery has just enough twists to keep the plot interesting, and promises good things to come in subsequent series entries. Veronica still has plenty of teen fans, and for those who don’t know her yet, hopefully these books will lead them back to one of the great teen mystery shows.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
KING, Stephen. Mr. Mercedes. 437p. Scribner. Jun. 2014. Tr $30. ISBN 9781476754451. LC 2013046172.
King’s latest is more of a detective story than a horror novel; although the bad guy is plenty creepy, in classic King style, there are no supernatural elements. “Mr. Mercedes” is the press nickname for a man who drove a Mercedes into a crowd waiting outside a job fair in an unnamed Midwestern city, killing eight and wounding dozens. He was never caught, but one day a year later, he sends a taunting letter to the now-retired detective, Bill Hodges, who was formerly in charge of the case. Hodges, who has been contemplating suicide, finds a new lease on life in tracking down Mr. Mercedes, with the help of his 17-year-old neighbor and friend, Jerome Robinson. The action moves between Hodges’s point of view and that of Mr. Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield, who is feeling the need to commit more murder and mayhem. Until the very end, it is uncertain which of the two will prevail, as each tries to figure out the other’s next step. King still knows how to write a page-turning story, and this one works as a detective story and as a psychological thriller. Teens who are King fans will of course already be reading this one, but it could also be a good starter novel for those new to him; the plot-driven story, the references to popular culture, and a minor—but important—teenaged character will draw them in.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library
LÄCKBERG, Camilla. The Hidden Child. tr. from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy. 528p. (Patrik Hedstrom: Bk. 5). Pegasus Bks. May 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781605985534. LC 2014013399.
The newest entry in the “Fjällbacka” series carries on two key themes of the previous books: the dangers that lurk in small towns, and several seemingly unrelated crimes that are, in fact, related. The novel focuses on the seemingly idyllic relationship between Detective Patrik Hedstrom and his wife Erica. Erica is at the end of her maternity leave (not so much leave as “rest,” since she’s an author who works from home) and Patrik is at the start of his paternity leave, charged with taking care of their daughter while Erica works. Instead, the protagonist doesn’t quite go back to work as much as spending time reading her deceased mother’s old journals, looking to connect with the distant woman who raised her. At the same time, Patrik is “chatting” with his colleagues about a murder of a former history teacher, then a former friend of Erica’s mother, and finally a noted neo-Nazi—all nearly the same age and all, according to her mother’s journals, friends once upon a time. The “hidden child” is the connection, why is he or she killing now? As with all of Läckberg’s books, the focus here is on plot and family, with the mystery more a way of exploring these lives. The Hidden Child is a little darker than the previous installment, but it is lightened by the escapades of Patrik’s boss, Melberg. As with the rest of the series, the tone falls in between the police procedural and cozy mystery subgenres, with a Scandinavian twist.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT