Angelina Choi is on work experience, keen as mustard to make a good impression. When the irascible Hobson gets her to set up a Twitter account for his detective agency, she starts a trending topic and wins them a client. Now John just needs to fight a wolf if they hit 400 followers…
Any crime novel with a title that begins The Girl Who… is either Swedish noir or taking the piss: Nick Bryan sets out his stall for tongue in cheek comedy and plunges on from there.
I found myself giggling on public transport (highly frowned upon in London, as it risks accidental eye contact or other engagement with your fellow commuters) as the unlikely duo try to find common ground to communicate across and end up in a social media agency in the hipster heart of Shoreditch. Full disclosure: I’ve spent most of my career in agencies, and Social Awesome is a satirical gem. By which I mean it cuts very close to the bone.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a novel devoted to taking entertaining pot shots at contemporary marketing communication strategies, because this is when it’s at its finest (yes, I may be biased). Most of the action focuses on Hobson and Choi’s investigation of the death-by-wolf of one (and soon several) of Social Awesome’s staff. As the body count escalates and suspicions are grounded entirely on whether someone is too quiet or too twee, it became increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief – bearing in mind we start with a private detective taking a 16-year-old intern to a murder scene, and I could run with that. Neither the characters nor the situations end up ringing true – not least Ellie’s forbearance with her ex-husband’s bungling around crime scenes. I know this is meant to be comedy not true crime – and I enjoy a good farce on stage – but I’m not so fond of literary absurdity.
I’m also downright judgemental about asshat protagonists. The more the narrative focused on Hobson rather than Choi, the less I liked it. Angelina Choi isn’t a particularly believable teenager, but she’s a lot of fun (except for what I felt to be a mis-judged scene in which she bullies her mother) – the ingenue is an interesting archetype for a private investigator. Hobson, on the other hand, is rude and insensitive, with few redeeming features. It came as no surprise when he slipped into a regular stream of casual sexism, but it didn’t help and it wasn’t funny.
There’s some intriguing background slipped in here and there – Hobson’s ex-wife the police officer; his anger management issues and possibly troubled recent past (was he thrown off the force?), but any deeper engagement with this is saved up for future instalments.
So overall, I found this a mixed bag. It feels a little like the sense of humour errs on the side of the laddish or the mean, neither of which I’m keen on, but it has its moments and Angelina takes the reins often enough that I didn’t put it down. While it certainly abuses the trope of maverick investigator who somehow doesn’t get arrested for impeding the law, it doesn’t indulge in some of my least favourite crime tropes and there’s thankfully no hint of utterly inappropriate romance.
Ultimately, I find I’m still mildly curious about the series and hope it will settle down and lose its rough edges as it develops.