Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review - Trouble is a Friend of Mine

This book was initially pitched to me as a cross between Veronica Mars and the BBC series Sherlock. Enjoying both shows, it sounded fun and requested the book. As the title "Trouble is a Friend of Mine" suggests, the narrator (a teenage girl named Zoe) has a tendency to get into trouble. More to the point, "Trouble" truly does become one of her friends in the character Digsby. He becomes the literal representation of Trouble popping up in her life.

The book starts with a few paragraphs of flash-forward of Zoe in front of a house filled with explosives and her conflict about whether to run back inside and help Digsby or run to safety. The book then flashes back to the moment she first met Digsby and explains how they get to know one another and the various forms of Trouble and mystery they uncover and stumble upon.

From the initial meeting between Digsby and Zoe I had to wonder about Zoe's character. She's skipping school one day and Digsby shows up on her doorstep with very cryptic comments that come off as stalker-like and definitely creepy. Instead of being totally freaked out and calling the cops or talking to her mom, Zoe feels a little confused but largely shrugs it off and then just sort of accepts that Digsby is becoming part of her life as he shows up time and again. Granted, Zoe has a troubled relationship with her mother but she's a smart girl with normal nervous tendencies so it felt odd that she didn't even mention Digsby to anyone.

This minor quibble about Zoe's character continued to appear in other forms for me in different places in the book. She wants to be responsible. She has aspirations for the future. Yes she's conflicted and a little confused about who she is and what she wants to be but she does have a sort of "moral compass" that we see glimpses of at times but we never see her really take significant action on. Mostly she seems to exist merely as a window through which we can observe Digsby. To use the Sherlock comparison, she is Digsby's "Watson." However, the nature of their meeting/relationship and the motivations for Zoe to tag along with Digsby seem much weaker than those same characteristics of the Sherlock-Watson relationship.

The snarky banter between characters (particularly Digsby) was entertaining. It felt both "teenagery" and "Sherlock-y" and had me laughing multiple times. In spite of his sharp Sherlock-like dialog, I did have a hard time believing some of the times he talked himself into or out of situations with adult authority figures, but I was willing to "suspend disbelief" enough to enjoy the scenes.

The overall plot/mystery was multi-layered and sometimes overwhelmingly complex. At times it was hard to determine if we were chasing strands of multiple mysteries (murder, missing person, drug trafficking) or a single mystery with tendrels in everything. When the different mysteries did overlap it felt a little too convenient or coincidental...but just barely believable enough.

These slight quibbles aside, I did generally enjoy this novel. I didn't feel a particular connection to any of the characters but I did enjoy the annoyingly snarky Digsby interactions. In spite of the somewhat convoluted mystery, I had fun watching the strings come together and the pieces fall into place. There were a few bits that didn't fit quite as nicely as I would've liked or which didn't get fully resolved, but it was still fun.

On the whole this is a fun book that should appeal to fans of the tone/style of TV Shows mentioned (Veronica Mars, Sherlock, etc) and books like them. If you're not a fan of that style of mystery/adventure/tone, you may want to steer clear. Otherwise, give it a try.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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