Saturday, 25 June 2011

"Smokin' Seventeen," by Janet Evanovich

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

When I was doing my MA I wrote a - not very good - dissertation on feminism and crime fiction. One of my lecturers recommended that I read Janet Evanovich, for which I will be forever grateful (he was also responsible for introducing me to the brilliant "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien). "Smokin' Seventeen," which I bought on its release date earlier this week, is the 17th (obviously) in Janet Evanovich's long running series of Stephanie Plum novels. She has also written a few "between the numbers" novellas to intersperse with the main series, usually centred around a holiday event such as Hallowe'en and Valentine's Day.

Stephanie Plum lives in New Jersey and, after losing her job in a lingerie factory, she takes a job working for her cousin Vinnie's bail bond office as a bounty hunter. Stephanie is very entertainingly the world's most inept bounty hunter, but her meagre skills improve marginally over the course of the series thanks to the tutoring of security expert and hottie Ranger Mancuso. Her life is further complicated as her attraction to Ranger vies with her relationship with on-off boyfriend cop Joe Morelli (also a hottie). She has a pet hamster called Rex - which is about as much responsibility as she can handle - who must, by the 17th book, be in the running for the Guinness Book of Records' longest living hamster (unless, of course, Janet Evanovich goes to the pet shop and picks up identical hamsters in between books when Stephanie isn't looking). Add to this gun-happy funeral groupie Grandma Mazur, ex-prostitute Lula and Star-Trek obsessed stoner Mooner, and you have a very entertaining cast of memorable characters.

In "Smokin' Seventeen," Vinnie's bail bonds office is working out of Mooner's van, as the office was burned down in the previous book. The reconstruction of the office has been delayed by the discovery of a dead body, topless bar owner Lou Dugan. Business is slow and Stephanie only has a couple of skips to track down, including a senior citizen who is convinced that he is a vampire. In the way of all Stephanie Plum novels, the body count increases and Stephanie herself is in danger. In this novel, the standard love triangle of Stephanie, Ranger and Morelli becomes a love square as Stephanie's mother colludes to match-make her with a school contemporary, Dave, who has returned to Trenton following his divorce.

I selfishly hope they never make a Stephanie Plum film. This is because I would like to be Stephanie Plum (I feel the same way about Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next), and I don't like the idea of someone else getting to play her. I'm probably a bit shorter, a bit fatter, a bit older and I can't do a New Jersey accent, but I still think I would be a natural because, like her, I would suck at being a bounty hunter and - don't tell my husband this bit - I think I would also find it impossible to chose between Ranger and Morelli.

I would be the first to admit that Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels follow a standard formula and they do blend into each other a little; however it is a formula that I still love. She averages one Stephanie Plum book a year - this year she seems to have upped her writing speed even further and the next one is due out in November - and I always look forward to them. They are quick, fun and compulsively readable. They are all glossy surface and no hidden depths, but that surface is fun to skitter across like an excitable puppy running on a waxed floor.

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