Stephanie Plum’s luck takes a worse turn than usual when a monkey is left on her doorstep. Carl’s owner is on her honeymoon, Steph’s been singled out for petsitting duties, and Carl has mastered the art of at least one piece of sign language - involving just one finger. On top of that, her cousin Vinnie will be in dire financial straits if she doesn’t bring in Martin Munch, a vertically-challenged genius who pinched a piece of advanced technology from his former employers, Lula’s engagement is heading for disaster, and Morelli’s house has been infested by his brother Anthony. Into the midst of all this chaos walks Diesel, international man of mystery or local nutcase (one or the other). If he’s to be believed, Munch is in cahoots with Gerwulf Grimoire, who wants the stolen magnetometer to further his plan of world domination via weather control and has a nasty habit of leaving corpses in his wake - ones with broken necks and handprints burned into their skin. Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it in the Barrens, an area of winding dirt roads and more or less crazy inhabitants. Among these is animal rescuer Gail Scanlon, who managed to call Stephanie for help after being grabbed by Wulf. Gail is the sister of Munch’s late former boss, and her latest animal acquisition is a bunch of ... monkeys. Carl’s pleased, but Stephanie’s not, particularly when she learns that as much as she wants to get her hands on Munch, he wants to get his hands on her - and not in a good way.
I don’t think this could read without having previously read Fearless Fourteen, but it can stand alone among the other between-the-numbers novels. I have clear recollections of only one, and had no trouble keeping up. It was a good piece of light entertainment to sustain me through an election weekend, even if it was more giggle- than laugh-out-loud funny. In fact the moment of greatest hilarity was nothing to do with the main plot, but karma coming to bite Anthony in the butt ... literally. Diesel’s sort of cute in an annoying way but I don’t think he compares to Morelli and Ranger; and is it just me or is this series becoming reminiscent of the Sookie Stackhouse books in the way men keep getting added? (Morelli, Ranger, Diesel ... Bill, Eric, Alcide ... I hope the Plum books don’t get to four; that would be ridiculous.) Speaking of ridiculous, the scientific explanation of Wulf’s schemes struck me as highly implausible, though not so much as no explanation at all would have done.
On the upside, I enjoyed seeing another part of the Morelli family, and the source of the conflict between Lula and Tank was comical in its incongruity. The Barrens made a suitably eerie - and mad - location; I liked being introduced to another part of Stephanie’s Jersey (but was the Jersey Devil just an urban legend after all, or was it really hanging around?) It’s not a book to read with your brain engaged, but switch it off and just go with the craziness, and you’ll have a good time.