Book Review: Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell

tumblr_nijjmiYZWC1qd9a66o1_500If you’re still missing Veronica Mars after the movie, the Veronica Mars novels, written by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham are just what you need. The first novel in the series, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, picks up after the movie ends and runs with Veronica’s decision to stay in Neptune working as a private investigator, much to Keith’s chagrin. Although the narration is in third person, rather than the trademark first person snark of the TV show, in the writing the characters come through clearly. The books capture the essence of the show surprisingly well. It’s like getting engrossed in a brand new episode. While the first book establishes the new trajectory of the series, the second book Mr. Kiss and Tell (out just in time for my January birthday) starts to get at the hard boiled issues I always loved Veronica Mars for. Running with the bigger story started in the movie, Veronica, Keith, and crew continue to fight police corruption in Neptune. In the mystery, Veronica is tasked with investigating the rape of Meg Manning’s little sister (remember her!?). There’s also familiar antics, such as Veronica making herself fit into tiny spaces–this time Wallace’s gym bag–and employing Mac with high-tech cyber stalking.

Many have written about the feminism of Veronica Mars, including the magnificent Megan Peters and me in Veronica Mars and Philosophy. I think, perhaps more than anything, the approach the series takes to rape and rape culture is its biggest claim to feminist fame. Without giving the reader a crash course in Veronica’s history with rape (there’s a bit of background mentioned, but nothing at-length), Mr. Kiss and Tell gives the reader another case in which Veronica fights for justice on behalf of another woman, when everyone else is more concerned with proving that she’s lying so they can avoid liability. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I want you to read the book, but I was impressed by how it handled the police, the press, and the rhetoric of violence against women.

In true Veronica Mars fashion, the police are criticized for their failure to respond adequately to rape charges. And, as usual, this portrayal is tempered by our knowledge that Keith Mars was a good cop, and, this time, with the return of Leo D’Amato (sigh. I love him.), who is now working for the San Diego PD.  Aside from the usual Lamb-is-corrupt issues, an officer makes a joke about how you can’t rape a prostitute that I’m not going to reproduce here, because it’s as bad as you’d think. What I find more compelling, however, is how Veronica’s case gets stalled because of police procedure that isn’t obviously mishandled. In this way, the book points out how violence against certain bodies can get caught up in politics that delay or derail justice. For example:

“Veronica, there’s no prosecutor in the country who’d take this to trial. And if they did, the defense would just turn the whole thing into a bad joke.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“Neither am I, okay?” For the first time a defensive note crept into his voice. “But I can’t bring him in if the Neptune DA doesn’t want to prosecute. You understand what I’m saying?”

Veronica’s need to take matters of justice into her own hands is largely portrayed as being the result of her seeing through the he-said-she-said nature of the allegations, refusing to blame the victim, and understanding that a woman’s sexual history does not have any bearing on her rights. She’s not perfect and she does have some doubts about the young woman who she is trying to help, but she sticks to good detective work and the pursuit of truth. That’s why she’s a feminist role model and why, in addition to the resistance to presenting violence in a titillating manner, I think the series consistently handles rape better than pretty much anything else I’ve seen. Although the victim in the story is an attractive young white girl, the narrative is also critical of the way that certain victims of violence have a monopoly on the attention and the sympathy of the media.

As Veronica gets older in the series (she’s 29 now), she starts to make decisions that land in increasingly murky territory, although for the best of intentions. That has me really curious for how the books will continue to show Veronica evolving and I suspect that she will get more hard boiled as time goes by, even if she does still have that sparkly pixie spy magic going for her.

Oh, and she gets a dog and names it Pony. Thank you so much for that, Rob Thomas.

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