Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich

Tricky Twenty-TwoTricky Twenty-Two

by Janet Evanovich

Series: Stephanie Plum, #22

Mass Market Paperback, 313 pg.
Bantam, 2016

Read: December 31, 2016

Stephanie’s on the hunt for a frat boy on the run, a lawn equipment thief, and a rapist. The latter two are pretty straightforward, but the frat boy, Ken “Gobbles” Globovic? Something’s not right with this one, and Stephanie puts on her deerstalker to try to figure that out.

Meanwhile, Ranger needs a woman for some security work, so naturally, Stephanie’s on the case. Things don’t go as well with that as it should’ve and bodies start to show up. That’s when things really start to get interesting.

Joe and Stephanie are both examining other career prospects, and watching Stephanie try out different ideas is good for a grin or two. I think I’d have preferred letting that play out a little more, honestly. She also could’ve played out the Grandma Mazur story longer, too — that’s something I almost never say. The former would’ve been easier than the latter, definitely. Still, there was a time when Evanovich seemed to drag out similar storylines longer than I’d like, so this “leave ’em wanting more” philosophy really works (“’em” roughly translates to The Irresponsible Reader here).

Ranger stood hands on hips and looked at me. “I’m completely enamored with you, and I have no idea why.”

“I’m cute?”

“Babe, there has to be more, but honestly, I don’t know what it is.”

I’m with him there, there are times I really wonder why I’ve read 22 of these (and plan on reading more). Now that I’m only reading one of these a year, it’s far easier to enjoy the Lula’s extremes (and/or Grandma Mazur), the same beats getting played out over and over, and so on — if anything, it’s comfortable. Part of the fun is to see the different ways that Evanvovich comes up with to hit these beats.

This time out, the stakes with Joe seem to be bigger than usual. And the crime that Stephanie uncovers during the course of her other investigations/hunts is bigger and more serious than usual. Not that serial killers and mafia bosses are the stuff of sitcoms, but we’ve seen them (in various TV/Book series) used in light ways pretty often lately.

In the end, this is a better than average Stephanie Plum adventure with enough of the old reliable characters and beats and some pretty good character moments. A satisfying read for new fans or old.

—–

3 Stars

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The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Why this took me so long to post, I’ll never know…it’s bad enough that it took me a month and a half to read it.

The PursuitThe Pursuit

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #5

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Bantam, 2016

Read: September 2, 2016

“I’ll send your money, but don’t think about running out on me,” Dragan said. “Or I’ll torture and kill both of you.”

Nick shook his head. “You can’t go ten minutes without making a threat, can you?”

“It’s called leadership,” Dragan said. “Stay in touch.”

Following the cliff-hanger ending to The Scam, I wondered if this book would shake off the fairly well-established outline for these books and instead, we’d get Kate globe-trotting from exotic locale to exotic locale hunting them down. Thankfully, Evanovich and Goldberg had something better in mind (not that something like my idea wouldn’t have been fun), while pretty much sticking to the typical outline.

Nick’s kidnapping ends up setting the stage for taking down an international thief and would-be terrorist. This thief, Dragan, is the anti-Nick. He’s about profit, violence, and more profit. There’s no style, no fun, no zest . . . But Dragan knows what he needs to accomplish a couple of his biggest heists: Nick.

Naturally, he gets more than he bargains for (and I don’t just mean Kate). Of the various criminals, masterminds, thieves and all around nasty folks that these two have taken down or encountered, Dragan is the worst. Thankfully, Evanovich and Goldberg are able to balance the threat and the humor, the romance and the robbery.

It all comes down to relationships: which is really why we come back to this series. Kate and Nick (I’m gladdened/relieved/a little surprised by where they have the relationship now). Nick and Jake. Kate and Jake. The rest of the team with Nick and/or Kate. Jake and anyone he comes into contact with (if we could get some young, active duty Jake stories, that’d be awesome). I like the way that their team is doing non-con work together — despite their best intentions, Nick and Kate have formed an actual team. There are a couple of additions this go-around (one is a blast from the past, but still, new to this side of the road).

I think there’s a misfire here — there’s a new foil introduced into Kate’s life, an FBI agent who is to work with her without knowing about this little side-project. He’s a little humorous, but mostly annoying. And his existence seems to run counter to the people at the top of the FBI sanctioning (however unofficially) what’s going on here. I’m prepared for them to convince me otherwise, but until they do, I’m going to groan whenever he shows up.

The writing is crisp as ever, it seems so smooth and effortless that it has to take a lot of work. There’s a great info-dump (because that’s actually a thing, rare as it may be) about an infectious disease. Not only does it inform the reader, but it’s written in a way to flesh out a character and add a sense of threat to the narrative.

There’s an editing blunder in the final few chapters that took me out of the moment (using Kate’s name instead of one of Dragan’s crew), that was oddly reassuring to me — even the big publishers stumble, not just the small press/self-pubbed guys like I’ve been reading so much lately.

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned Harry Harrison’s Slippery Jim diGriz when talking about this series, but this is Nick Fox at his Slippery Jimmiest (Kate is a little like Angelina diGriz, too, come to think of it — but not as much). Fans of either should look into the other. The Pursuit is another solidly entertaining adventure in this series. Really looking forward to what’s next.

Oh, I should add that if you’re a fan of eggs, you might want to eat a few extra before reading this book, because it’ll be tough to eat one for a while. Trust me on this one.

—–

4 Stars

The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The ScamThe Scam

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #4
Hardcover, 286 pg.

Bantam, 2015

Read: September 24 – 24, 2015

“You can never have too many weapons,” Jake said.
“Does that mean you brought your rocket launcher?”
“It’s in the trunk of my car in case of a roadside emergency.”
“What kind of roadside emergency would require a rocket launcher?” she asked.
“You don’t want to find out and not have one hand,” Jake said. “It’s also why you should always have a paper clip in your pocket. You can do just about anything with a paper clip.”

I was prepared — even half-way expected — for this to underwhelm me. There wasn’t anything driving me to that expectation, maybe it was just my mood. Thankfully, this surpassed my expectations/fears — not for one second. This was another breezy, fun, adventure for Nick, Kate and the crew.

From page 1, The Scam was firing on all cylinders. The main mission was a lot of fun, with a believable target, just dangerous enough. The side missions were interesting and did a good job pushing the plot forward, not just being B stories.

There was even some tie-ins to previous cases — up to and including a recurring character that’s not part of the team.

Boyd is pretty much the most annoying character in the series, but this time, they struck the right one with him. He was insufferable as always, but he didn’t get on my nerves at all. Which means the book probably deserves a bonus 1/2 star rating just for that. The rest of the team was used only minimally — just little tastes of them all. I don’t think I’d want that all the time, but it worked here. Kate and Nick were…well, Kate and Nick. I think Kate was a bit more honest with herself about her motivations — both professional and personal — than we’re used to seeing her. Maybe the same could be said for Nick, too.

The ending (always the trickiest part of a con story) worked — Kate’s improvised weaponry was just great. Even if we didn’t get to see either the roadside emergency rocket launcher or pocket paper clip (which doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great line), sorry Chekhov.

There were a couple of things in the closing pages that floored me. I didn’t think Evanovich would do either of them, just doesn’t seem her style. I like the fact that she can surprise me (maybe it’s Goldberg’s influence — maybe not, but I like the guy, let’s give him the credit). Anyway, there were things in these pages I never expected that I’d get out of Fox and O’Hare. Bravo.

Book five needs to arrive soon. I realize my saying so isn’t going to make it happen. But just in case I’m wrong about that, I should get it on the record.

—–

4 Stars

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

Top Secret Twenty-OneTop Secret Twenty-One

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #21

Mass Market Paperback, 326 pg.

Bantam, 2015

Read: June 27, 2015

What to say, what to say . . . I mean seriously, these are like 80’s sitcoms at this point. A big reset to the status quo at the end of the novel, most of the jokes are variations on previous novels. Which makes it hard to talk about them. Let’s break this one down quickly:

  • The Good: Vinnie didn’t appear. Joyce Barnhardt only appeared as an allusion. The pacing was a bit different, I thought. Stephanie’s main target was taken care of pretty early, freeing her up to help Ranger.
  • The Bad: The main target for Stephanie was so close to the guy in Takedown Twenty that I briefly wondered if I’d already read this one.
  • The Surprising: The other big case for this book — Ranger’s case, was a lot more serious (grading on a Plum curve here) than we’re used to. Involving a bit more peril than one expects. Grandma was used well, and Evanovich showed a little restraint with her and her antics.
  • The Funny: There was the standard amount of general amusement. But, and this is important, (at least until Evanovich figures it out and drives it into the ground), Bob + Ranger = Comedy Gold. Who knew? I actually laughed out loud. That whole scene lifted this from a 2-2.5 star rating to a three. It’s been a long time since I actually laughed at one of these.

On the whole, once I settled into it, I enjoyed myself. I’m glad I read it — would I prefer that Evnovich reintroduce a real sense of serialization, let things progress with one of the two romantic leads, let Stephanie get better at her job, introducing real stakes would also improve the humor. Otherwise, this remains fairly reliable, decent, disposable reading material.

—–

3 Stars

The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Job (Fox and O'Hare, #3)The Job

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #3

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Bantam, 2014
Read: November 29 – December 1, 2014How is this only the third in the series? It’s a testament to the professionalism and craft of Evanovich and Goldberg that this feels like a series that’s been around for at least a half-dozen books, a well-oiled machine.

The hook to this particular case — someone posing as Nick Fox pulling off some major heists — was pretty fun, and a great excuse for Kate to go jet-setting around the world. That lasted just long enough to set up the major target for this novel: one of the biggest, baddest, most mysterious Drug Lords in the world. Thankfully, he has a pretty major Achilles’ heel that Nick and Kate were able to take advantage of. In just about any other series, I’d cry “foul” about someone like Lester Menendez falling for this implausible con. But it totally worked in this world — and would probably have worked if Nate Ford and the crew had tried it, too. Slick talking, fast work and a hint of danger (more from the psychotic bodyguard Reyna Socorro and her trusty AK-47 than from her boss) — and bam. The bad guy gets defrauded and sent away for a long time.

The major difference between this one and the previous two installments is that the rest of the team doesn’t have as major a role to play — don’t get me wrong, the usual players and some new faces are there and important. We just don’t spend as much time with them — it’s more heavily geared to being the Nick and Kate Show. They’re even restrained in their use of Jake O’Hare. I don’t have anything against the rest of the team, and really enjoy some of them — but I’m glad that they were put in a secondary position this time. As long as they get featured more prominently on a regular basis, I think focusing on the title pair makes sense.

The only suspense really is how far the “Will They/Won’t They” go (and so far, that hasn’t reached the point of being annoying). We all know that Fox and O’Hare will get their target, we may not be sure how — we won’t know how much fun there’ll be along the way, how much private property will be destroyed, and how many exotic (or domestic) locales will be visited along the way. And it’s fine that this isn’t a suspense-filled series. It’s a lot of fun. That’s what it promises, and that’s what it delivers — as long as we don’t look for more than banter, impossible cons and slick writing, we won’t be disappointed.

Not that the first two were slogs by any stretch of the imagination, but I raced through this — with a little more sleep, I’d have tackled this in one sitting, but I had to leave the last 50 pages for another day. The writing, the plot, the banter was just so smooth it was almost impossible to stop once I got started. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and already am looking forward to the next.

—–

4 Stars

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

Takedown TwentyTakedown Twenty

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #20


Mass Market Paperback, 313 pg.
Bantam, 2014
Read: June 24 – 25, 2014

The guy from the fire department closed his notebook, glanced at Morelli, and gave him one of those looks that said, You poor bastard, how did you ever get involved with this idiot woman?

It’s hard to disagree with the guy from the fire department isn’t it? You wonder the same about Ranger, too. What do these guys see in this gal? What do I see in her?

Stephanie Plum books frequently have just goofy, sit-com-y images/situations at their center. This book starts off with one of the goofiest and zaniest so far. Frankly, I find the zanier aspects of these annoying and off-putting, but this one worked for me. Though if Evanovich had come back to this well one or two more times, I might have felt differently.

The central mystery was okay, and could’ve been even better than that — but Evanovich didn’t handle it right. Stephanie’s helping Ranger investigate a series of murders of elderly women. She really cares about this investigation, we’re repeatedly told by Stephanie. But if she didn’t tell us that a few times, there’d be no reason to believe that, she certainly doesn’t act like she cares — at least not enough to have a sense of urgency about it. She spends maybe 30 minutes a day on the investigation, and then goes home, goes to her parents’, or pigs out with Lula. And yeah, that’s her usual M.O. — but that’s just when she’s chasing down a pretty non-dangerous character.

Why does Stephanie ever bring Lula along to help with anything. She almost always turns things into a debacle and then goes shopping/to a drive thru/both. She so rarely contributes anything positive that you could use the phrase “never contributes” and only be guilty of slight exaggeration. If I hadn’t mentally cast Retta as Lula so I hear everything in her voice, I don’t think I could stand her any more.

This is an okay enough entry in a series that’s become okay enough. I was entertained just enough to make it worth my while and come back for the next one (probably). But nothing more. I know Evanovich is capable of better, but at this point, she has little motivation to do better. She can turn in “good enough” and it’ll become a best seller, why put in the extra effort? But apparently, I’ll keep giving her chances to turn things around.

—–

3 Stars

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Chase (Fox and O'Hare, #2)The Chase

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #2

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Bantam, 2014
Read: March 20-21, 2014

Nicolas Fox and Agent Kate O’Hare are back in action — better yet, Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg are back and better than ever. This time their target is none other than the head of a multinational security force/private army owned by the former White House Chief of Staff. Easy pickings, right?

This is just the ticket for readers who miss The A-Team or Leverage — clever schemes improbably pulled off by team of pros to take down a real scoundrel. This team gets around a bit more than the others do (better budgets in books than TV shows) — they globe hop from D.C. to Shanghai, to Montreal and more — even the Scottish hinterlands. The shenanigans in Montreal, in particular, were hilarious and ever so smooth.

I enjoyed The Heist (my review) — a lot, actually — but this was better. Everything — the interplay between the characters, the plot, the crazy schemes that Fox & O’Hare cooked up (individually and together), the new guys, the villains — all of it worked better this time out. If these two are this polished on book two, I can’t wait to see what Evanovich and Goldberg are like by the time they get to five or so.

—–

4 Stars