The Questionable Behavior of Dahlia Moss - Max Wirestone

I am so glad that this eARC asked me not to quote anything from the book until I could check with the published version because by the time I hit 5%, I'd already come up with a handful of candidates of quotations to start this post with, and I didn't want to have to choose.


Literally picking up where The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss left off -- with Emily Swenson asking Dahlia to be an industrial spy. She's being sent to serve as a Temp in the offices of a game development company -- they're best known for a really simple game, the kind you play in line at the DMV or something, it's relaxing. Still, it's a gaming company and a pretty successful one at that -- it's the kind of place Dahlia should work (if she wasn't becoming a detective). There's another company about to buy them out, but they need some more information -- there are rumors of problems in the office, are they true? Could they look at the existing code for the new version so someone can see why it's delayed?


Dahlia jumps at the assignment -- which is good, because otherwise the novel would be a very short, and pretty dull, story. She shows up for her first day to find, well, chaos? Chaos seems to be an understatement. She starts to acclimate pretty quickly and is behaving more professionally than just about anyone in the office. If Dahilia is the standard of professional behavior, that tells you everything you need to know about the rest. Oh, and then Dahlia finds a dead body. Now in addition to her Industrial Espionage work, there's maybe a murder for her to look into in her spare time.


The problems she faces staying staying incognito: The detective in charge of investigating the murder/suspicious death knows about her from Shuler. There's a reporter sniffing around -- and scheduled to tour the company -- who's written about her exploits. Her friends can't stop saying things to her coworkers about her being a detective. And, well, she's just not that subtle of an investigator -- she largely pulls it off, but that's primarily due to the company being in turmoil and no one having a lot of attention to devote to the question "why is our temp asking all these questions?"


Part of the fun of these books has been watching Dahlia flail around, unsure what to do next. There's less of that here -- she's learning. I'm not suggesting that she's transformed herself into Kinsey Millhone or Joan Watson, but there's something about her that's less flailing. Maybe because she has some pretty clear objectives this time out. I liked that hint of growing skills. Not bad for someone with a recent concussion.


Now, to the rest of the cast: the people in the office, by and large, feel like characters from other series. Gamers, SF geeks, cosplayers . . . those seem like people Dahlia interacts with. Responsible adults with steady jobs? Nope -- which serves the plot. There's a knitting circle that feels like what Dahlia's crowd will become in 30 years, and her interacting with them feels a bit more fitting.


The book is just as amusing as its predecessors, I literally laughed out loud a few times -- not at big comic moments, but at a line of dialogue or a quip Dahlia makes. The big comic moments worked for me, but not as effectively. As always, half the fun is from the very odd circumstances that Dahlia finds herself, but the other half of the fun is the way Dahlia narrates things, the metaphors, pop culture references, etc. Yeah, I thought the Mad Men references were a little too close to each other -- but I appreciated both of them so much, I didn't care (also, pairing Joan Holloway with Della Street? Perfect). One of the things that the writers behind MST3K always said that when they go for super-specific references that are obscure, they know that not all viewers will get the joke, but those that do will love it. There's a half-chapter in this book (and a couple of call-backs to it later) that I could swear was written just for me. And, yes, I loved it (I didn't give the book a bonus 1/2 star because of it, but I thought about it).

There's some maturing -- at least indicators that maturing and responsibility are on the horizon for ol' Dahlia. It reminded me of Lutz' The Last Word in that respect, but I had a lot more fun with this The Astonishing Mistakes than I did with Izzy Spellman's swan song (not that this is necessarily the end of Dahlia's adventures, though it's always seemed to be marketed as a trilogy). It's good to see that trajectory with Dahlia (and, honestly, her roommate).


Other than that, there's not much to differentiate this from the other two books in the series (as far as the writing goes, not the stories): the writing itself is fun, as is the story, a good mix of serious subject matter and comedic moments (none that detract from the tragedy of murder or anything). There's some good character moments and a decent mystery, too. If you haven't read any of Dahlia Moss' adventures, you should grab one and dive in -- this one will work just as well as the first or second. In the end, you'll want to read all three.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Orbit Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.