In Pwned, Christa Charter once again brings Sexy Sleuth Lexy Cooper to life with a mystery following hot on the heels of her initial outing, Schooled. Once again, Lexy is dragged into a mystery set amidst the high-tech world of video game systems. This time, Lexy gets involved because her paramour, Nate, the married father she can’t stay away from, calls and asks her to check on a member of the team who should be at the airport about to head for Japan… but isn’t. Ever the dutiful “friend,” Lexy heads over only to discover the guy dead on the kitchen floor, a single stab wound to the chest.
Coming as this does on the heels of her last adventure (a mere few month in book time – and while I don’t think you need to read Schooled to get this book, it’s probably a good idea if you do), Lexy promptly calls her “Uncle” Mike, a police detective, reports the crime and then passes out, a victim of PTSD. Then, over the course of the relatively short novel, the murder investigation gets hampered by complications and leads down paths involving drug dealers, strippers, an old flame of Mike’s who now works for the FBI and a firearms instructor who moonlights as a championship extreme sports star (or maybe it’s the other way around). There are enough red herrings to make a Lithuanian meal while suspects come and go faster than pixels on a dual core processor (I don’t know what the means, either).
Needless to say, it all gets solved and Lexy herself has a major hand in the action, overcoming her murder related stress as well as her devotion to Nate (well, almost). She also gets a new boyfriend and a new hand weapon (and a throng of new followers for her in-system show, Xenonline). It’s a quick, fun read and I’ll certainly get the next book in the series, next time it’s on sale, but a lot of the same problems I found with the original book are still present here.
Ms. Charter still writes her characters as inhabiting the world she lives in at the time she’s writing them and so she’s got pop culture references which make the book feel dated instead of timeless. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think she might be better served by creating fictional figures who fulfill the roles she wants her pop culture figures to fill so instead of having a concrete person we might or might not know, we’ll create our own thinly veiled pastiche of whoever is current at the time of reading. This would create a relevancy which comes as a collaboration with the reader instead of actively trying to contradict their current reality.
Also, Lexy is still a sex pot and while we, the readers understand she is more brain than boob, her colleagues don’t really see her that way. And neither does she. She’s allows herself to be used to cover for her co-host who doesn’t want to work, a host who is hired in the first place to provide the show with an “intelligent” half. Her looks are given more credibility than anything else she might have to offer. I’m not saying this doesn’t exist, I just wish Lexy complained about it more than a cursory cursing and then moving on and keeping with the status quo. Even the one co-worker who asks her to edit a piece of writing, really only does it as a pretense to sexually harass her. Which brings up another issue – sexual harassment in this book is almost at the point of absurdity. When the HR Director is guilty of massive and obvious harassment I tend to lose focus and he loses credibility as a character. Sure, he may be a slimeball, but you don’t get to be head of an HR department and NOT know that standing around with your dick hanging out is a major no-no. It just strikes me as someplace where if something was going to be said about the nature of sexist situations in the gaming industry, this was the place. Instead, it passes with the barest of notices except as a potential clue towards discovering our killer.
At the end of the day, I keep wanting Lexy and her cohorts to be more aware of their situation and at least trying to understand and combat it. It’s a testament to Ms. Charter’s writing ability that I’m still reading and looking forward to more.