There are some posts I'm not sure how to start. Introductions are probably the hardest part for me (I say this today, tomorrow I'll be struggling with a conclusion). I thought about starting this post this way:
If you liked . . .
* the Dahlia Moss books, but want something less sit-com and more dramedy
* the Kirby Baxter books, but wish that Molly was the star?
* Seanan McGuire's Antimony Price, but wish you didn't have to put up with the cryptozoology?
* the Castle pilot episode
...then this is the book for you!
But that just seemed frivolous. So I abandoned it.
A chance encounter in a slow-moving coffee shop line and an overheard offhand remark leads to LAPD Narcotics Detective Matteo Kildaire consulting comic book writer Michael-Grace (call her "MG") Martin about an unusual crime. A couple of drug dealers had been tied together and left for the police, a photo printed in the newspaper (or at least an online version of it) reminded MG of one of her favorite comic book panels when she saw it -- a panel from a comic in the Eighties. It turns out that there are additional reasons to tie the crime scene to that particular comic, and the detective could use some help. He's clueless about this kind of thing and is desperate to get any kind of line on the vigilante responsible.
Matteo is concerned for various and sundry reasons that MG and her coworkers at Genius Comics might be a target for trouble (and/or responsible for it). MG is intrigued by the entire thing (and the fact that an incredibly hunky detective is talking to her about it doesn't hurt, even if he is the Muggle-ist Muggle around) -- actual crimes being committed around town by someone very inspired by the comics that shaped her early geekness?
Now, Matteo doesn't want word to get out about a. MG consulting for him; b. the close eye Genius Comics employees are being watched with; c. really anything about the vigilante. So he poses as someone MG's dating, without really consulting her on it. Spending time with her in social settings allows him to investigate her coworkers and friends -- although he really seems interested in getting to know her better.
MG's dealing with several things in her own life -- she's up for a big promotion at work; her side project of designing costumes (for cosplay, and her friend Lawrence's drag queen act) is dangerously close to turning into something more than a hobby; and somehow she has to work in a fake relationship (without tipping off the true nature of things to her roommate or Lawrence).
The chemistry between the two main characters is fantastic -- Matteo comes across as a very nice guy, the kind of person you'd like to think every detective is -- driven, honest, kind. MG's the kind of person I'd like to hang out with -- creative, funny, geeky (although her LOTR views means we won't be best friends). When you put the two of them together they work really well -- on a detective/consultant basis, or as a couple. It's obvious from at least Chapter 2 that the sparks are there, so I don't feel too bad talking about this -- but they do keep it pretty professional. Mostly. Whether they're being professional, or they're in one of their more personal moments, these two are a great pair.
Now while the pair are getting to know each other, the crimes associated with the comics continue to pile up, get more serious and start to involve significant damage and danger to human life. Other than Matteo, the police and the FBI aren't that convinced that MG can really help them. And at least one of her friends becomes a person of interest in the investigation. These two things spur MG to do some independent investigating in addition to her consulting. Which goes about as well as you might think for a comic book writer/would-be fashion designer starring in a comedic novel.
And it is funny. MG is a great narrator -- honest about herself and her foibles; snarky about the foibles (and strengths) of those around her; clever, witty and her narration is chock-full of geek-culture references. Molin tends to over-explain some of MG's references. You don't need to tell me that "Winter is coming," is a Jon Snow line. You can just say it and everyone will know you're talking about Game of Thrones (or Death and Boobies, as MG prefers). I don't remember noticing that later on, I either got used to it or Molin course-corrected. Either way, it's not a major problem.
The story is strong, the culture around Genius Comics is interesting (and rings true), the secondary and tertiary characters are fun -- it's a very satisfying debut novel. I do think that MG's roommate and coworkers could've been developed a bit more. At least we could've spent more time with them, not much, just a little (except the roommate, we could've had more time with him -- but that seemed intentional). But that's about my strongest criticism, come to think of it. There are some scenes that are just fantastic -- Matteo watching the original Star Wars trilogy with MG and her coworkers for the first time is magic. There's a moment in the last chapter that's a little better, too (but I won't spoil anything). Molin can tell a good story and capture small elements well.
I started this by joking around about the kind of people that'll like this book -- but seriously, there's something about this that'll appeal to most. Just thinking of friends/family/workplace proximity associates who read novels -- I can't think of one who wouldn't find something in this to enjoy. My mother would like the interplay between the characters (particularly between MG and Lawrence) and the story, even if she didn't get most of the fandom references; my buddy Paul would like MG's spirit, the mystery, and Matteo; Nicole would dig the mystery, MG, and the fandoms (even if she doesn't share them, she'll get it), MG's design work, too; I've got another friend who'd like the mystery but would roll his eyes at some of the relationship stuff; Rosie would get a kick out of it all, especially MG's voice -- and so on. Okay, to be honest, I can think of one reader I know who wouldn't like it -- between the subject matter, the voice, the crime story -- it'd be beneath her (unless Molin gets interviewed by NPR, then she'd be a big fan). My point is -- there's at least a little something here for everyone to get into, if you don't let any of the particulars of the setting or character get in the way.
Sure, I liked Dahlia Moss/Kirby Baxter/Antimony Price/Castle without any of the conditions that I started things off with -- so this was definitely in my wheelhouse. But more importantly, it was a fun story well told, with charming characters that you want to spend time with. If I'm reading Molin's tweets correctly, we're looking at at least a trilogy with these people -- I'm all in for that, I'm very interested to see where she takes the story and the characters. I fully expect that I'm not going to be alone in my appreciation for The Frame Up.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from 47North via Little Bird Publicity and NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to all for this great read.