The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss Review
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If you love a good whodunit, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve encountered a wide variety of literary sleuths—from wise-cracking pulp fiction gumshoes to the harried single moms and lovable grannies of cozy mysteries. But rarely do you find one as aimless and geeky as the reluctant young detective in author Max Wirestone’s The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss.

The story finds unemployed 20-something Dahlia Moss caught up in an online mystery. One night, eccentric rich kid Jonah Long arrives at Dahlia’s apartment to offer her a job as a detective. He explains that something called the Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing was stolen from him in an online role-playing game called Kingdoms of Zoth. He believes that his former roommate, Kurt, is the thief, and he offers Dahlia $2000 to scare Kurt into returning the spear. But then Jonah is murdered—stabbed to death by a replica of the missing spear—and Dahlia’s case turns into something bigger, deadlier, and geekier than she ever imagined.

Dahlia Moss is an amateur sleuth for a new generation. Instead of solving mysteries from an overstuffed armchair while a cat lounges on her lap, she’s transforming herself into a pink-haired fairy and charging through a digital world of wizards, elves, and giant bugs on her quest to find a digital thief. And she’s doing so not because she wants to bring order to the Kingdoms of Zoth or because she truly cares about the missing spear or its owner but because she can’t afford to pass up the offer—and, besides, it’s a welcome distraction from her usual job-hunting activities.

If you’re a gamer, you’re sure to enjoy Dahlia’s journeys through Kingdoms of Zoth—and the way in which her digital detecting eventually connects to a real-life murder. The story is filled with geeky references—yet not so many that non-gamers will feel hopelessly lost.

Still, Dahlia isn’t always an easy character to like. Not only is she a reluctant detective, but she’s reluctant about everything else, too. She’s surrounded by all kinds of eccentric characters—especially her oddball roommate, Charise—yet she prefers to remain on the outside, scowling in. She often goes out of her way to avoid humoring, encouraging, or even acknowledging Charise’s attempts to help, yet she still considers Charise her closest friend. She’s dry and sarcastic—not to mention sluggish and self-absorbed. And while that may be understandable, since she’s dealing with her share of issues (like her ongoing unemployment and her ex-boyfriend’s infidelity), her often pessimistic attitude tends to suck the energy out of her otherwise quirky capers.

Filled with 20-something hipsters on role-playing quests, The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss definitely isn’t the typical detective novel. But while the digital drama will appeal to gamers (as well as those who know and love them), the generally apathetic main character can make it a frustrating read.

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