The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich, Peter Evanovich: Jinkies, that was a bad book

The Big KahunaThe Big Kahuna

by Janet Evanovich, Peter Evanovich
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #6

Hardcover, 301 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: June 5 – 6, 2019

♪ ♫ ♬ Where have you gone, Lee Goldberg
Readers turn their lonely eyes to you
Wu wu wu
What’s that you say, Ms. Evanovich
Lee Goldberg has left and gone away
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey ♬ ♪ ♫

(with apologies to Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Lee Goldberg, Janet Evanovich, Mrs. Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, my parents, teachers, Vogon poets… but dang, I spent a day and a half singing that to myself)

I’ve (purchased and) read all the previous novels at least once, read most of the short stories/novellas, and listened to all of the audiobooks of the series up to this point. I was a fan, maybe not the biggest fan — I expressed issues and reservations from time to time, but I knew I could expect a fun adventure, some fun banter, a little ridiculousness, and a clever crime story when I picked up a Fox and O’Hare novel. But when the inimitable Lee Goldberg departed, I got nervous — Evanovich has slipped in recent years (as I’ve discussed), and I don’t think she cares or notices. Still, I wasn’t sure how much of the success of these books were up to Goldberg and how much was Evanovich finding a spark in new characters that wasn’t there anymore in her Plum franchise/cash cow. Well, I think I’ve solved that mystery to my satisfaction — it was Goldberg.

I’m so, so relieved that I didn’t buy this thing. I’m sorry the local library did, too, although I’m glad I was able to take advantage of this.

First off, there wasn’t much of a con. It’s an adventure story — there was a little bit of a con at the end, but on the whole, there’s no reason for Nick Fox to be around for the whole book. As such, we don’t get most of the team showing up. Only Kate’s father, Jake, comes along.

Which is fitting, really — he belongs in adventure story. His basic approach of this retired guy who can pull off the occasional save with military equipment/connections while not liking to talk about that kind of thing has been exchanged for an older super-soldier that gives no evidence of being reticent about anything or all that old.

A new member of the team is introduced — he’s supposed to be the voice of reason keeping the destruction of private property to a minimum, and to do all the paperwork that Kate seems to ignore. First I think they did this already, and it didn’t work too well (the character was alright, but a dufus — I can’t remember if it was the same guy or not). Secondly, Kate — not their boss — told him about the super-secret arrangement with Nick Fox while in Fox’s presence and in a very casual manner. It just felt sloppy. Lastly, the character is the least-realistic character I think this series has ever produced — there’s no universe in which he makes it as an FBi agent for a month — much less be expected to be an agent that can keep things going well for this partnership.

There are a bunch of non-criminal types that really don’t need to be around but keep showing up anyway — they aren’t amusing, they aren’t well-conceived characters, they’re around to complicate plots and to be funny. They rarely succeed at the latter.

The primary villain (who I won’t name because he’s not revealed for quite a while) wasn’t actually that bad, and if they’d used him better, I wouldn’t be complaining about it at all. He just didn’t get the chance to be anything but briefly intimidating and then a pawn for Nick and Kate (making you wonder if he really wasn’t that intimidating after all). His primary accomplice was the person who did most of the work. She seemed half-baked (maybe three-quarters), and wasn’t all that convincing — her scheme (for lack of a better term) didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Her henchmen were pathetic and uninteresting.

Nick Fox . . . was a shell of the character. He’d traded in his usual between-assignment shenanigans for some dumb scheme about social media coaching, using a pseudonym that showed none of the panache characteristic of Fox. There was little reason for him to be around for most of the book, other than to make bad advances toward Kate.

Kate, meanwhile, seemed less competent than usual. A bit more clueless about criminal activity and Nick Fox, and fairly dependent on her father for the more action-hero-y stuff. Which didn’t seem right, either. She said “jinkies” so much I wondered if she’d been Velma in a previous life — a trait I don’t remember belonging to her. Of all the characters, she seemed more herself than the others — still, she seemed off.

The relationship between the Kate and Nick really doesn’t make sense. Some of what’s said between the two of them makes me think that this volume takes place between Books 3 & 4 rather than after Book 5. Although that makes the whole explanation for Cosmo even worse, because I think it was Book 3 that got Kate shackled with the paperwork partner last time. The last chapter of The Big Kahuna takes the nice relationship that was developing between the two protagonists during the Evanovich/Goldberg run and ruins it — and ruins the timeline, too. If this takes place after Book 5, it’s meaningless (as is a lot of what happened before). If it takes place after book 3 (which makes the most sense), it ruins the arc of 4 and 5. Then again, it’s not like the Plum books have a real timeline, it looks like the Evanovich2 run will follow that. It’s not about development anymore, it’s not about growth of character or relationship — it’s about churning out books that’ll sell.

The whole thing felt like a Stephanie Plum book that Stephanie, Joe and Ranger forgot to show up for — but reasonable facsimiles thereof did. One of the great things about the previous novels is that they didn’t feel like Evanovich, or completely like a Goldberg. That’s out the window. And the book, en toto, suffered for it.

I’ve spent far more time and space on this post than I intended to (and still haven’t touched all my notes), so let me wrap this up. A year or two back after I spent time critiquing a book that I gave two stars to, one of my readers asked if I gave that novel 2, what would it take to get a 1? I said a book would have to make me mad, not just disappoint. Probably, on merit, I should give this two stars — there were some good moments, I have to admit (although while writing this, I seem to have forgotten them). But as I was thinking about that, I remembered that conversation, and well…this book as made me mad. It took a solid and reliably entertaining series, with good characters and ruined them. Just ruined them. I might give it one more try, just to see if they learned anything from this disaster (my guess is that sales won’t suffer much and they’ll learn nothing). But, without a different co-author, I can’t imagine why anyone would read these books again.

—–

1 Star

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger ChallengeHumor Reading Challenge 2019

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich: A Swing-and-a-Miss from a Typically Reliable Source

Hardcore Twenty-FourHardcore Twenty-Four

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #24

Mass Market Paperback, 275 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: December 25, 2018

I dropped Lula off at the office and went to my parents’ house to mooch lunch. They live five minutes from the office, five minutes from Morelli’s house, and a time warp away from me. Even when my mom gets a new refrigerator or buys new curtains the house still feels precisely the same as when I was in school. It’s equally comforting and disturbing.

At this point the series feels a lot like Stephanie’s childhood home — they all feel the same, which is comforting and disturbing for the reader. This book ended up serving as a prime example of that.

I was feeling pretty good early on, when Connie was giving Stephanie a couple of new FTA’s to go pick up — they seemed equally interesting and potentially amusing. There’s a man who got upset by the poor service he received at a coffee shop and shot up a few cars in the parking lot, and a “pharmaceutical activist” who was arrested after blowing up a meth lab he was using in an abandoned building.

Actually, the travails of the slippery fifty-two year old who threw a tantrum and his eccentric wife is a pretty fun storyline. But the story of Zero Slick gets derailed right away by antics around his political activism and then leads into the major plot-line of the novel about a potential Zombie-outbreak — that both Zero and Lula seem to be overly focused on. That ties into a series of crimes where heads are being stolen from corpses at the various undertakers in town.

Yup. Zombies. Oh, and Diesel shows up. I was so glad that he wasn’t around anymore, it actually took some effort to remember who he was. Throw in an online boyfriend for Grandma Mazur and things are overfull with the zaniness.

I spent so much of the book just wanting it over — I did appreciate the story-line about the shooter — and a couple of other FTA’s that Stephanie picked up. I liked almost everything about Morelli for a change. The Ranger flirtation (and things beyond it), not to mention the Diesel flirting, the Zombie story (even when Evanovich tries to ground it in reality), and the Mazur stories just didn’t work for me. A little too crazy, a little too would=be comedic, without success.

I like the series, as often as I grumble about it — but this was beyond grumbling. I honestly had a hard time remembering why I keep reading these. They used to be funny, now I settle for amusing and almost charming. But I know Evanovich is capable of more, and I hope she gets back to form soon – even if it’s a diminished form. I’ll be back for Look Alive Twenty-Five, but my anticipation will be muted.

—–

2 1/2 Stars

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich

Turbo Twenty-ThreeTurbo Twenty-Three

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #23

Mass Market Paperback, 319 pg.
Bantam, 2017

Read: December 14 – 15, 2017


While trying to apprehend an habitual hijacker, Lula finds herself behind the wheels of a recently stolen refrigerated truck — which she promptly runs into a Trenton Police Car, much to Stephanie’s chagrin. Both the police and the bounty hunters are surprised to find a corpse in the back of the truck — covered in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts, just like a Bogart bar.

Coincidentally enough, Ranger just got hired to handle security for the Bogart ice cream factory and wants to send Stephanie undercover to help dig up some holes in the security there. She doesn’t find a murderer straight off, but she does find a lot of problems with the security. Joe’s not handling this case for the PD, but he’s still able to provide a little intel when needed.

Speaking of coincidences, Grandma Mazur has a new fella in her life, who happens to tend bar where one of the prime suspects regularly drinks himself into a stupor. Which works out nicely for everyone.

About the only person not coincidentally connected to these crimes is Lula. She spends most of the book working on audition videos to reality shows. She and Randy Briggs make a couple of videos for Naked and Afraid-esque shows. Thankfully, there are no illustrations to this book or I’d have to bleach my eyes.

The comedy is a little dialed back from what it has been recently — which is good. Although it is there — once I saw that Stephanie was put undercover at the plant, I wrote in my notes, “we’d better get a Lucy [Ricardo] moment.” Thankfully, we did, shortly after I’d given up hope and was prepared to devote a paragraph or two to ranting about how Evanovich missed the obvious and nigh-obligatory move. Outside the Lula stuff, I enjoyed the rest of the comedic beats (and, actually, the Lula stuff wasn’t as annoying as it could’ve been).

The mystery itself was pretty easy for the reader to solve, but it’s a pretty clever bit of criminal activity that Stephanie and Ranger eventually uncover — and the way the story unfolds is entertaining enough that you don’t mind seeing the solution more than 100 pages before Stephanie does.

This is a solid entry in this long-running and still (generally) entertaining series. It’d be a decent jumping on point as well as a pleasant reunion with old friends (new readers might find it more entertaining than I did, actually, running jokes being a bit fresher for them). As a story this might actually work a bit better than some of the books do, and it looks like Evanovich has the humor/plot ratio just right, nothing to complain about here.

—–

3 Stars

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

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