Solitary Man by Jeff Mariotte: B

From the back cover:
Widow Mildred Finster is a life-long fan of “cozy” mystery novels. She decides at the tender age of seventy-one that she’d like to become a real private detective. She finds a card for Angel Investigations and thinks the name sounds very sweet. After all, she loves angels. What could be more perfect?

Angel and the gang are hip-deep in their own personal problems, so when Mildred offers her services, they don’t have much time for her. And when a truckload of antiquities from a local mission is stolen, they don’t get too worked up over what they think is a simple theft. But the arrival of some ruthless killers from overseas finally gets the gang’s attention.

Now they are being followed at every turn by a well-meaning old lady, fighting off attacks from poltergeists, and trying to set their personal differences aside to defeat a supernatural foe before a centuries-old mystery reaches its final chapter.

Yes, another Angel book! I checked out 4 at once, and now they’re all coming due, so I’m hastening to get them read. Solitary Man takes place early in season four, at least after episode six, “Spin the Bottle,” in which the team reverts to their high school personas and Cordelia regains her memories. I think there’s a timeline error, however. In that episode, Wesley’s got some spring-loaded blades up his sleeves, but in Solitary Man, he’s still waiting for them to be delivered. I don’t see why he’d need two sets of these things, so I am assuming they’re the same ones. It seems like an attempt of Mariotte’s to get in an esoteric reference to them in particular, but it doesn’t work with non-amnesiac-Cordelia.

In general, Mariotte writes the Angel crew well. I really liked his analysis about Wes and Lilah’s relationship. It’s never implicitly stated on the show, but I think that he got Wes’ motivations absolutely right. He also does well in showing what Fred and Gunn are each thinking after what happened with her former professor. This is a period in the show where people are keeping a lot to themselves, so it was neat to get some perspective on what they might’ve been thinking. Another thing he does well is describing the action in a scene so that it’s immediately easy to envision it playing out on screen. I find I really like being able to picture exactly how Angel got into the offices of the trucking company, for example.

My only complaint with the writing itself is that Mariotte seems to have a penchant for the lame simile. This also manifested itself in Sanctuary (review). The first example to catch my notice was this little gem: “…her footfall soft as the beat of a butterfly’s wing.” Another: “…with remnants of advertising posters clinging to them like bad memories that can’t be shaken.” I don’t know whether to snicker, groan, or make gagging sounds. Oh, and the spelling of magic with a K abounds. I definitely need to get my hands on some scripts and confirm that Whedon-tachi did not use this variant. I will be so depressed if they did. But Giles didn’t own the Magick Box, did he? No, he did not.

So, good characterization and dialogue aside, the plot of this one is kind of dull. Some artifacts didn’t make it to a mission renovation project, some weird old dude is involved, some comatose park ranger living in a house with a poltergeist is involved, some little old lady follows the crew and gives progress reports to her cat, Pookie. (I am not making this up.) The end was a little dumb, too. Mariotte provides another quick, easy read, enjoyable almost solely for the people populating it, and pretty bleh otherwise.

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