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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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4 Stars

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich

What?! A second post? Yeah, trying to make up for yesterday.

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Notorious NineteenNotorious Nineteen

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #19


Mass Market Paperback, 302 pg.
Bantam, 2013
Read: Dec. 24 – 25, 2013

When this one gets serious and creepifying…it gets really serious and creepy. Even better, Evanovich restrains the goofiness. Leaving this a moderately suspenseful, witty and charming book. Even Grandma — who has a significant role here — isn’t as cartoonish as she often is.

There are two major cases that Stephanie has to deal with — the Ranger case is pretty fun, if a little lean. The major case, dealing with the missing embezzler, is more intricate than usual. I don’t know that I was convinced by Stephanie’s methods to solving it, but I applaud the complexity of the case and hope that Evanovich is willing to stretch like that again.

Not much else to say at this point — it’s a Stephanie Plum book, and a pretty good one. That’s pretty much all that a Plum-head (Plumb-er?) should need.

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3 Stars

Explostive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

I swear this isn’t turning into all Evanovich all the time (if for no other reason, than I haven’t read any more). Just needed to clear out a backlog yesterday.

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Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum, #18)Explosive Eighteen

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #18


Mass Market Paperback, 320 pg.
Bantam, 2012

Stephanie Plum novels are starting to remind me of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? — a couple of real, flesh and blood people, surrounded on every side by cartoons. Which can be amusing enough, I guess, but I’m afraid it’s going to go too far one day soon.

The best part of this book — both in terms of Stephanie the crime fighter and Stephanie the one angle in a triangle — takes place entirely prior to this novel — but its impact shapes a lot of this one. That’ll make sense if you read the book, otherwise, sorry.

Still, there’s a lot to like in this one — there’s an ambition to the story that’s not common to the Plum books. Between the FBI and the various criminal enterprises represented, this could be a compelling gritty story in another series. Evanovich is at her best when balancing the serious with the silly — and in the main story, she achieves that this go ’round.

Of course, the amount of Joyce Barnhardt in this one is enough to put me off, and Lula’s plot is dumber than normal. Vinnie skews more towards the criminally stupid than the disgusting, so I think that’s a plus. But on the whole, the parts of this that have nothing to do with the aftermath of Hawaii and her flight home, drag this one down.

I spent a good deal of time while reading this trying to figure out what Joe or Ranger see in Stephanie — or vice versa. I got no closer to an answer than I have before. But really? There’s so little between these people.

Still, fun enough to justify the time.

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3 Stars