While I generally avoid reviews of books that I’m planning to write about here—I like to go in blind so as to avoid any preconceived opinions—I did run across Kirkus’ pull-quote of C.L. Gaber and V.C. Stanley’s Jex Malone, which was comprised of two very succinct words: “A dud.”

But, as Kirkus and I don’t always agree, I went ahead and read it anyway. The premise ALONE demanded that I read it; knowing it included quotes from famous girl detectives ranging from Jessica Fletcher to V.I. Warshawski to Jane Marple to Nancy Drew was just icing on the cake. Sadly, underneath that lovely frosting, the cake was lumpy and underdone. As I have a tendency to let metaphors get away from me, I’ll just say it flat-out: Kirkus was right about this one.

For the past seven summers, Jessica “Jex” Malone has found a way of avoiding time with her estranged detective father. But now, finally, she’s used up all of her wiggle room, and now she’s headed off to Green Valley, Nevada, doomed to eight weeks of hideous heat, awkward daddy-daughter bonding, and sleeping on a pull-out couch in her workaholic father’s home office. In addition to being constantly overheated and annoyed, she’s expecting to be bored and lonely…but instead, is rapidly adopted by a trio of besties—Cassandra “Cissy” Gutierrez, Natalie “Nat” Mordecai and Devalekha “Deva” Patel. During their first encounter, they A) hack into her father’s work computer, B) dive into his boxes of cold-case files, and C) form the Drew-Ids, a secret crime-solving club. Their goal? To solve the 13-year-old disappearance and probable murder of Patty Matthews, the very same case that destroyed Jex’s parents’ marriage.

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I really WANTED to like this book. I mean, based on the premise, it looks practically tailor-made for me. But, alas. The main, overarching reason it doesn’t work is this: It reads like two or three different drafts of the book were smooshed together into a non-cohesive, often incoherent mess.

  • There are continuity errors, like in Patty’s secret journal (which is a problematic element in itself), when she writes about her father taking “what was left of” her bedroom door off of its hinges…and then, a few entries later, about him kicking the same door “half off the hinges.”
  • Jex heads out to Nevada under duress, with no interest in getting to know her father whatsoever, but then, toward the end of the book, she suddenly changes her tune, and implies that she CHOSE to go west, “...to find out about my dad and settle things once and for all.”
  • In the prologue, she does a bunch of (perfectly grammatically correct) texting with her BFF…who we never hear about again.
  • She’s had next-to-no interaction with her father for her entire young adult life, yet she semi-regularly spouts off mystery-solving tips that she’s heard him say “a million times.”
  • She talks about how she’s “getting better at [worrying] by the day”... when it’s the first time she’s referenced being worried about anything.
  • And then there’s the idea that these four 16-year-old girls would suddenly, out of nowhere, START A CRIME-SOLVING CLUB—including writing up a Code of Conduct that includes a whole clause about long-distance friendship—when one of the girls has known the others for less than 24 hours and ONLY ONE OF THEM is remotely interested in crime. If they’d come up with the club and the Code of Conduct AFTER solving the case, it would make sense. Beforehand, it’s just…ludicrous.

But wait, there’s more!

It seems seriously unlikely that the police force would allow a detective to keep an entire closet full of cold case files IN HIS HOUSE. There’s Cooper, the love interest, who is defined entirely by his relationship to the missing girl and by his “perfect field of summer grass” green eyes. There’s the dialogue, which is soap operatic and stilted (“Despite what I told you the other night, I don’t want to talk about my sister!”), and the narration, which often reads like it was run through Google Translate a few times before being printed (Then I remember the look of true sorrow on Billy’s dumb face and the words that harsh Melissa said before she walked away.). There’s the fact that the girls—Patty’s journal included—read (and act) closer to 12 than to 16, the inconsistencies in character development, the constant jumping-to-conclusions, the inane plotting, and the ultimate resolution of the mystery, which is somehow both predictable AND ridiculous.

Whew. I guess I should have trusted that pull-quote, eh?

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.