Isla Vista is a Dionysian college town known for its babes, booze and excess. With all of those naive, animalistic coeds either mumbling into their cell phones or having sex with each other in the streets, the place is bound to be populated with some shady characters looking for a payoff – the same ones that have a tendency to hurl their beer cans and dark secrets over the rapidly eroding cliffs of Del Playa.
Either that, or it could be just another dirty college town with a stagnant and rather boring reputation that is unrepresentative of many students who live there. Dan Wesolowski’s murder mystery, Final Sprint, tends to lean toward the former rendering of our quiet little beach community. His descriptions of the DP party scene are mostly true, but the authorial disdain they carry with them becomes tiresome in a book with no mystery and dishearteningly stereotypical characters.
His hero, Drake Simo, is a stoic cyclist by day and an even more stoic part-time dick at night. After a long bike ride that ends at Pescadero Park, the first of many shady characters – one Jacek Majowski -proposes a case to Simo regarding the death of his son, Mietek. It seems that Mietek was a veteran of the war in Iraq, a supposedly good student with health problems, before he took a tumble off the cliff at 6642 DP. The Isla Vista – or “Skyview,” as it is known in the novel -Foot Patrol dismisses him as just another drunk partier who leaned too far over the edge, but his father wants to know the real story.
As a UCSB student, I thought this book had real potential – a simple mystery premise could reveal a more thorough understanding of I.V. culture by presenting a wide range of interesting characters with varying degrees of sleaze and hidden motives. Instead, the characters prove to be the most frustrating part of the entire narrative.
Drake Simo is a literary nonentity – he has no personality or characterization past his general irritation with everything going on around him. Granted, noir-detectives are supposed to be terse and tough individuals, but Simo’s dialogue is so “Um” and “Uh”-ridden that it stumbles more often than it sounds natural. He even contradicts himself when he has a sexual encounter with his neighbor/detection partner Janelle, while he publicly disdains the public groping he witnesses at DP parties.
That groping brings us to the rest of the book’s characters. Groping is a universal activity for students, landlords and anyone else living between El Colegio Road and Del Playa Drive. Wesolowski revels in all of the bodily functions he uses to characterize how unhealthy the inhabitants are, from spitting up yellow globules to constant farts. The primary students in the novel either spend their time waxing in a pitifully philosophic manner – “Sometimes I’m, like, too academical for my own good” – or spend their time smoking and screwing themselves silly.
At the beginning of the book, I laughed out loud at most of these characters, thinking they represented the most asinine stereotypes DP had to offer. By its end, I was skipping entire paragraphs just because I didn’t want to trudge through another “Dark Side of UCSB” rant about the crudeness of the average UCSB student. No contrary examples to this lifestyle are presented, which makes for a very facile opinion asserted without context. As for the mystery itself, the characters fly their guilty colors from start to finish. There are constant allusions to 9/11 and our president’s ineptitude that somehow figure into the invasion of a smack-laced weed into I.V., but they all lead to a conclusion so anticlimactic that I felt cheated at the end.
All in all, I’d say Isla Vistans can skip Wesolowski’s spurious pontifications – oops, that was my pseudo-intellectual ‘academical’ side slipping out. Get wasted and hookup with some random person instead – apparently, that’s what UCSB students are best at.