So after eleven years and sixteen previous Stephanie Plum novels, this is the first novel I deliberately chose not to spend my money on. I distinctly remember reading One For The Money back in the year 2000 and laughing my ass off in bed at it. I read 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 from my local library in a matter of days and at that stage, 6 had just been published. I bought it that week after I’d made my way through the first five and then bought copies of those so that I could own them. And waited the long, agonizing year between books. And for the next six or seven years, they were well worth it. But somewhere around 11 or 12, they suddenly….stopped being worth it. I remember when Fearless Fourteen came out, I was flying to visit my family and was very surprised to come across it in the airport bookstore. I had simply forgotten that it would be out soon and hadn’t even bothered to acquire it. I bought it to read on the plane, but it wasn’t until Finger Lickin’ Fifteen that I suddenly thought ‘what the hell? This is utter shite’. I gave a benefit of the doubt and bought Sizzling Sixteen but after reading that I made a firm decision: no more of my cash would be going to Janet Evanovich.
And I’m sorry to actually say it, because I would’ve liked to have been proved wrong, but Smokin’ Seventeen just reinforces that I made the right choice. It’s not all bad – in fact I’d say it’s probably a marked improvement over several of the latest Plum novels. But that is not to say that it’s good. Because it isn’t.
Ever since the bail bonds office burned down in the previous novel, Vinnie, Connie, Lula and Stephanie have been working out of Mooner’s RV. Although Vinnie’s father-in-law is stumping up the cash to rebuild the bonds office, construction hasn’t started yet – and is halted further with the discovery of a dead body buried in the lot. The body turns out to be some missing random mobster but don’t bother to wonder too much about him because he’s not actually important to the story line. He’s just the first in a string of bodies that end up being dug up from the empty lot, one bearing a rather ominous message For Stephanie. Yes, Stephanie has attracted yet another psycho – and her immediate suspicion is Nick Alpha, brother of Jimmy Alpha whom Stephanie shot back when these books used to be funny and contain credible villains.
In other plot lines – creepy Grandma Bella has put the eye on Stephanie which makes her sleep with Joe and Ranger on consecutive nights, Stephanie’s mother is trying to set her up with yet another ‘nice boy’, this time it’s a former high school classmate who used to be a football star, went west and may or may not have been involved with swindling people out of their homes. He also likes to cook and will show up throughout the book at random intervals to cook in Stephanie’s apartment.
And did I mention there’s a dancing bear?
This book took me just over an hour to read, in hardback, at 308 pages. That gives you a bit of an idea how much the reader is being manipulated – the typeface is bigger and more spaced, there are blank pages scattered throughout the book and the whole thing can be done and dusted in record time.
The biggest problem this book faces is that there isn’t a plot. There’s a bunch of dead bodies and some ridiculous skips ie an old man who thinks he’s a vampire. Please! Does Evanovich think we’re all idiots? I know vampires are popular right now but there’s a big difference between reading a paranormal romance and an author using that as yet another lame skip gag. In fact I’m not actually sure what’s stupider – the fact that this vampire was inserted into the plot or the fact that Lula actually believed that he might be one. I know Lula doesn’t provide the height of character rationalization and intelligence but this was stretching it, even for her. I used to find the little quirks about the skips funny – but I can’t laugh at some toothless 80yr old who thinks he’s a vampire. And don’t even get me started on the dancing bear, which at one stage, is just wandering the streets of Trenton. Why is it that in the last dozen novels, Evanovich has been incapable of writing one without some ridiculously unbelievable animal moment? Spiders, geese, monkeys, alligators, dogs and now a bear. It is not funny.
I read these novels still because of Ranger. He’s actually one of my favourite characters in fiction and he hasn’t been ruined for me yet but even that is starting to wear a little thin. Previously, Stephanie and Ranger have slept together once before, all the way back in book #8. Inexplicably, they sleep together in this one and Evanovich manages to both a) completely rewrite the way Stephanie has dealt with her attraction to Ranger and b) actually have her sleep with him without consequence by tying it up in some ridiculous curse put on her by Joe’s crazy old grandmother. Loosely wrapped up as something called vordo it apparently makes Stephanie act like a “slut” – ripping Ranger’s clothes off, having sex with him in a car, fitting in a quickie 10m before he has a meeting. It was extremely disappointing as a Ranger fan that the way this book was written that Stephanie couldn’t even choose to sleep with Ranger because she’s attracted to him and she wanted to. No, it was all wrapped up as her acting like a crazy slut because Joe’s grandmother put a curse on her so that Joe would see she was no good. I know that these books are never going to go anywhere with Ranger as a genuine love interest for Stephanie but does the writer have to resort to some kind of crazy voodoo spell so as not to insult the Morelli fans? It is supposed to be 50/50 you know and the Ranger fans do cop the short end of the stick. It’s been pretty light on for Ranger action since Ten Big Ones and Stephanie staying in his apartment. Then the chemistry cooled off to somewhere around sub-zero and we finally get a bit of Ranger play only for it to be written in a way so that it can be forgotten, shoved under the carpet because Stephanie didn’t mean it, it was the vordo.
Please. If they want her to be with Joe, have her with Joe. Don’t make excuses and hide behind bullshit to placate the Ranger fans. Most of us don’t give a rats ass who she chooses as long as she actually makes a choice. Because the flipping back and forth is getting exceedingly tedious and no one actually believes that Stephanie is that good in bed that she can just keep these two guys panting after her for whatever scraps she can dish out. Mostly she’s a walking disaster these days – should be filed under being kind to the special in Ranger’s budget, not entertainment.
The villain/murderer is also screamingly obvious from the time they are first caught on tape. In fact they may as well have just painted a sign on him saying “Why hello there! I will be your friendly neighbourhood murderer for this installment of the SP series. Please come again!” And the red herring might as well be actually painted red and shaped like a fish, for how much of a distraction he is from the real killer.
The good point about this novel? It feels like it was written by Janet Evanovich at least, and not a ghostwriter/her daughter/etc which quite a lot of the ‘teens’ ones have felt like. Previous characters actually get a mention, including Stephanie’s sister Valerie who hasn’t been mentioned in how many books now? She also now has two children to Albert Kloughn, so gaining another niece was clearly not important in Stephanie’s world for it to warrant a mention prior to now either. Series consistency is for the weak, apparently.
Explosive Eighteen is inexplicably due out in November of 2011, a mere five months after this novel. I’m uncertain of why that is but given what Evanovich has been dishing up with a year between books, I’m a little worried at what eighteen could involve. This one ends on what I think is supposed to be a cliffhanger like High Five’s “Nice dress…. Take it off” but it falls flat.
4/10 – Better than both Finger Lickin’ Fifteen and Sizzling Sixteen but still a long long long way off being even close to some of the better titles in this series.
Book #115 of 2011
I’m using Smokin’ Seventeen as one of the books read for the What’s In A Name?4 Challenge hosted by BethFishReads. This one fulfills criteria #1 – Read a book with a number in the title. This is the fourth book I have read for this challenge. I have the Size criteria and the Evil criteria left.