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

Advertisements

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

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