Libby Cudmore’s debut novel The Big Rewind features a cover blurb comparing it to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. And while it’s true the two novels share first-person narrators who love music and sprinkle in more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at, I’m not sure the comparison between the two extends far beyond that.
Taking over her grandmother’s rent controlled New York apartment, Jett Bennett has grand visions of becoming a music journalist in the Big Apple. But the reality of her situation is that she’s scraping by taking temp jobs and spending a lot of time at Trader Joe’s (if this was a movie, the sheer number of mentions of Trader Joe’s would feel like product placement). Living among bohemian artists, Jett is finding her way in the world when a mix-up in the mail has her stumble across the murder of her neighbor.
Luckily Jett temps for as an assistant for a private detective and before you know it, she’s lured into trying to solve the crime of who killed her neighbor. Was it really her boyfriend or could the answer lie buried in the mix-tape that was mis-delivered to Jett’s mailbox?
The premise of The Big Rewind is an intriguing one. It’s a shame that the driving narrative of who sent the mix-tape and why and does this connect to the death of the person for whom it was intended gets lost at various points in the book. It turns out Jett is also pining for her best friend, who is dating a stripper, all while trying to get over that one boyfriend who got away. There are moments when you can see how Cudmore is trying to draw a parallel between the situation of the murder victim and Jett’s, but they aren’t always as successful as they could be.
Another big issue with the story is why Jett becomes as invested in solving the crime as she does. Jett can’t decide if she was just a passing acquaintance of the victim or her best friend for whom she must seek out justice at all costs. At several points, it feels like the level of Jett’s friendship is as much or as little as is needed for her own personal growth story or to simply serve as an a device to spark the plot forward.
It’s saying a great deal that these frustrations and sidesteps don’t totally derail the story. A good portion of that is that Cudmore creates a likeable character in Jett, one who I rooted for and wanted to see do well. Her snarky, pop-culture asides work well, though Billy Joel fans can expect to be feel insulted once every twenty pages or so. In the end, it was Jett and her journey that kept me reading and not the central mystery of the story.