recently lent me Veronica Mars, and I am presently around a third through the first season. I’m not having quite the “OMGthatwasawesomehowhaveIneverwatchedthisshowbefore?” of , but I am finding it interesting, which is basically all I hope for out of art. I’ll probably have more to say specifically about Veronica Mars later, but for now I’ll just comment on the historical place of this show.
Something to bear in mind is that the whole genre of the detective is only a bit over 150 years old – very new. Poe invented the genre in 1841, and Conan Doyle essentially evolved it into its modern form with his understanding of “clues” starting in 1880.
This makes it roughly, very roughly, the same sort of age as children’s literature, which is likewise a late-Victorian invention. Before that, books were books. It wasn’t until the late Victorian period that the niche of books targeted at the young was discovered. Much of what is now considered classic “adolescent” fiction from before Edwardian times has actually been appropriated by that niche, sometimes almost absurdly. (Gulliver’s Travels is my favourite example of a clearly sophisticated adult work whose deep references would pass any child by almost entirely, but which is routinely contemplated as primarily a child’s story; but there are myriad similar examples to choose from)
The convergence of these two genres must have happened fairly early on, just as the near relation of the spy story sees its first best expression in the coming-of-age tale Kim around 1901, through the boys-own and other periodicals. However, the earliest youth-detectives with whom I am familiar must surely the the Hardy Boys. The first Hardy Boys novel appeared around 1927 in the USA – only a few years behind the birth of the American Hardboiled tradition generally, and in fact, before Hammett wrote the definitive noirs in 1930.
Viewed in this light, Brick and Veronica Mars are actually far from innovative inasmuch as they are directly descended from the same period as the general family of American Hardboiled detectives. This is good, because it removes any kind of temptation you might have to substitute a desire for quality with the sufficiency of unfamiliarity. They can’t be said to be good or successful works simply as a re-imagination of the adult criminal world through the prism of High School Hijinks: they must also successfully operate as examples of their paired genres.