The CW’s iZombie is my new obsession—it’s smart and funny, the heroine has a great voice and tons of heart, and watching her interact with the secondary characters is just as much fun as watching her fight crime. The show has a seriously Veronica Mars–ish feel, a fact that can be chalked up to the fact that it uses pretty much exactly the same format and comes from the same creators. As so often happens, my current TV interest has had an effect on what books I pick up, and so this weekend, I got to know two new girl detectives: Jane Casey’s Jess Tennant, and Jennifer Latham’s Scarlett¹.
Port Sentinel is a beautiful coastal town with a dark underbelly. It’s one of those small towns where everyone knows everyone, everyone knows everyone else’s business, and where grudges get held for decades; a place populated by families who’ve been there for generations and by a recent influx of the extremely rich. Londoner Jess Tennant is new to Port Sentinel, but she doesn’t come from money—she has roots there, as it was her mother’s childhood home.
Within less than a day of getting settled, Jess has made an enemy of the local Queen Bee, developed an interest in two very different boys, and started investigating the mysterious “accident” that resulted in her lookalike cousin’s death. Jess is prickly, sharp, and more than willing to indulge in verbal—and physical—sparring; she’s confrontational, quick to judge, and mouthy. She regularly calls people out for hypocrisy, lying, sexism, and various other crap behavior; she is sometimes accused of not being NICE, but NICE doesn’t always get the job done.
I’m especially glad I read How to Fall and Bet Your Life back-to-back²: in How to Fall, some of the secondary characters—especially the antagonists—were entertaining as all get-out, but extremely two-dimensional. Those same characters get fleshed out in Bet Your Life, which makes me hope that that trend will continue in the next book. So far, in addition to being decent mysteries, the series is wonderfully soapy—the drama isn’t confined to the teenagers, as by the end of the second book, Jess’ mother has three suitors to contend with—and entirely entertaining. I very much hope it continues for years and years.
Scarlett, from Jennifer Latham’s Scarlett Undercover
Sixteen-year-old Scarlett graduated from high school two years early, but she hasn’t moved on to college: instead, she runs a small detective agency. She takes cases here and there—finds lost items and looks into accusations of cheating—but her underlying goal is to find out who murdered her father. When a young girl comes to her with suspicions about her brother’s possible involvement in the recent “suicide” of one of his peers, Scarlett’s digging uncovers a centuries-old secret…one that might be directly linked to her father’s death.
THIS BOOK IS SO MUCH FUN. Scarlett’s voice is straight-up noir—the phrase “You’re a pip” actually comes out of her mouth at one point—and there are loads of other details that add to the noir feel (she wears a fedora and the names Archer and Hammett both figure in, for example). She’s trained in Muay Thai, carries a blackjack everywhere she goes, and the fight scenes are so cinematic that I’m already dreaming of a CW show based on this series.
The mystery is based in and on Islamic theology, involves King Solomon and jinn, and there are some excellent conversations between Scarlett (who is Muslim) and her best friend and love interest Decker (who is Jewish) that show the various takes that different faiths have on the same stories and figures and symbols. Scarlett isn’t entirely convinced that this jinn business is for real—and the same goes for whether or not her friend Mook is figuratively or literally her guardian angel—and Latham walks a wonderful line of allowing the reader to interpret that element either way. It’s a layered story about family and faith and fate and class and religion; about making choices about what is right in the moment versus what is right in the long run; about refusing to chalk someone else’s pain up to “collateral damage.” I want more Scarlett, and soon!
Looking for more? See this roundup of upcoming mysteries I put together last fall.
¹If Scarlett’s last name was mentioned in the book, I am an abject reading failure, because I totally missed it.
²I’m also superhappy that I have an advance copy of Hide and Seek sitting right next to me—I’m planning on diving in right after I finish this column!
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.