From the stack: Clubbing

July 20, 2007

Clubbing, the third offering in DC’s Minx line, is a sneakily ambitious mash-up that almost works. Writer Andi Watson has taken bits from Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and even Rider Haggard and put them into the hands of a very contemporary young protagonist. It’s not really the heroine’s fault that it ends up being a bit too much and too little at the same time.

Lottie Brooks is a goth fashionista party girl (if such a creature can exist) who’s gone a tiny bit too far. An ill-conceived fake ID has led her to be shipped off to her country bumpkin grandparents for the summer. It could be a ghastly homage to The Simple Life or something equally vapid and distasteful, or Watson could guide her to Learn a Valuable Lesson About Simplicity and its Wisdom, but Lottie, for all of her affectations, isn’t a hopeless brat or snob, and Watson isn’t given to preach. Instead of trying to remake the village in her image, she decides to go along for the ride for the duration of her exile from London.

Lottie’s a surprisingly appealing character in spite of her egregious fashion choices and occasional tendency to pout. She gets in the spirit of things, and she’s reasonably gracious to her new neighbors. That’s a good thing, because Watson hasn’t resorted to portraying them as cookie-cutter yokels. They’re pleasant folks, and city-girl condescension would be lethal. She’s better than that, reserving her tarter remarks for private narration.

Then a body turns up on her grandparents’ golf course. What better distraction could there be for a stranded city girl than a provincial murder? And if she finds romance with the groundskeeper’s hunky, nerdy, golf-loving son, all the better, right?

Not really, unfortunately. The plot is a hash, when you get right down to it. As social satire goes, it’s pleasant enough, but anyone expecting something along the lines of Cold Comfort Farm will be disappointed. The murder mystery consists of Lottie making a string of incorrect assumptions until the climax, which no sane person could have predicted. (Well, no sane fictional person. It struck me as fairly obvious, if not at all reasonable.)

Part of the problem might be illustrations by Josh Howard, which are competent but not soaring. Some sequences, particularly those that hinge on the promise of romance or adventure, never really come across. The conclusion begs for a bravura approach if it’s going to come across at all, and it’s not there. Howard does provide some interesting compositions, and I like his character design for the most part.

Watson certainly gets points for effort here. The whole idea of this kind of mixture of story types seems so right that it gives off a pleasant buzz, and I have a pronounced fondness for this kind of thing. (Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Amelia Peabody Emerson novels by Elizabeth Peters? Probably.) Clubbing doesn’t live up to its potential, though I’d like to see more of Lottie’s adventures.


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