22 July 2007

Book Review: Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

Lean Mean Thirteen Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is running out of cash and in desperate need of some bail-jumpers. Unfortunately the current crop are all low-end and the biggest disappearance in Trenton is that of her ex-husband Dickie Orr. He’s not much of a loss, but he left a pool of blood behind shortly after a bunch of his colleagues witnessed Steph trying to throttle him. All in a good cause, of course; the ever-mysterious Ranger asked her to plant a bug on Dickie, and she discovered that he was back with her arch-nemesis Joyce Barnhardt. So now she’s prime suspect in Dickie’s presumed murder, hunting a grave robber and a crazed taxidermist, and trying to find out what really happened to Dickie - and why Ranger’s investigating his law firm. Poking around in the business of the kind of people Dickie’s gotten himself mixed up with is not without danger, and soon Steph’s finding crispy-fried corpses scattered about town. Meanwhile she and bounty-hunting sidekick Lula are dealing with an infuriated Joyce and the usual string of disasters; if they’re not detonating roadkill, they’re blowing up a house packed to the rafters with dope. Grandma Mazur manages to turn up some even more unsuitable boyfriends. And when Stephanie finds out which witness Morelli has squirrelled away, she’s not going to be happy.

I had started to wonder how long the series could be kept going, and after this return to form I hope it’s a good while longer. There’s so much to laugh at: the dope house blast that makes the Burg the most popular place in Jersey, the exploding wildlife, Grandma’s antics, a creative new use for a staple gun, and a bruised and battered crook who will no doubt forever rue the day he met Stephanie. But best of all is the surprise she and Lula arrange for Joyce; it’s simply hilarious and still makes me grin to think of it. Dickie proves just how obnoxious he can be, and it’s really no surprise Stephanie was so quick to get rid of him. The bail jumpers manage to be sympathetic characters and Dave the goon almost pulls off the same feat - almost. But then, it would be hard not to feel at least a tiny bit sorry for him after all the damage he sustains ... and where he sustains it. Lula provides and much comedy and attitude as ever, and you finally discover Tank’s real name; it’s easy to see why he prefers Tank. Investigating Dickie made for an interesting take on the regular formula (and I use the word ‘formula’ in the best possible way) but Connie made little more than a token appearance and sleazy cousin Vinnie was MIA. Nevertheless. a wonderfully funny installment that doesn’t let 13 live up to its unlucky reputation.

Rating: B+

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776