Wednesday, July 21, 2010

BOOKS: Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

It appears that 2010 is the Year of Atonement. First, John Sandford recovers from a dismal 19th volume in his series of Lucas Davenport novels with the 20th, Storm Prey. Now, I'm happy to say, Janet Evanovich is back in form with Sizzling Sixteen, the latest of the numbered Stephanie Plum books.

Coming off two down years, I didn't know what to expect from Evanovich. It has become a birthday ritual to get the latest Plum book from the O'Neill's and read it that night. Work commitments prevented me from normal routine, but I did manage to fit it into a couple of nights of bed-time reading. It's a smooth and quick read, although with a rushed ending that isn't unique amongst Plum books.

Until the ending, we have Stephanie having minimal contact with Ranger and Joe, although she kisses each and gets kissed by each. In between smooches, Stephanie spends most of the book on the lookout for Vinnie, her black sheep of a family member. And her boss. Vinnie gets snatched early in the book and Stephanie, Lula and Connie spend most of the next 200 pages or so tracking him down.

That becomes a little dangerous. Gunplay is involved. So are stink bombs. And Mr. Jingles, who's a chicken-lovin' alligator. Plus, the latter-day Charlie's Angels manage to pull off a million-dollar heist, with full intentions of using the money to ransom Vinnie back from the baddies they stole the money from. Through it all, Stephanie only wrecks one car. It's a tour de force of detection.

Honestly, I think the success of the book can be put down to a minimal amount of involvement for Grandma Mazur. Looking back at books 14 and 15 in the series, I think Evanovich OD'd on using Grandma, who's really a one-note character. She dresses outrageously, makes oblivious remarks on the way to and from visitations at Stiva's Funeral Home. She doesn't add much new. And that's certainly the case in this book, after she gets hobbled with a broken foot.

Best thing that could have happened to a reader.

Now, before I gush too much about the book, let me remind you of the ending, which is sub-standard. Once again, a Stephanie kidnapping fraught with peril a few pages from the end gets wrapped up like Evanovich needed to cut back to a strict page limit. She gets points for having the Hobbits save her. But it's all quite a bit rushed.

Plus, I think Evanovich had a REAL opportunity to take the series in a new direction, to have some change in what has been a largely static situation. There's a bottle with something in it that surprisingly remains intact throughout the book. I HONESTLY hoped there was something in that bottle that might prove practical for a change in the power structure at the Bail Bonds office. Say a winning lottery ticket or a hundred shares of Google. Good money, but not life-changing money.

How interesting would it be to have Stephanie as the boss and owner next book? Unfortunately, that wasn't what was in the bottle.

But I'm already looking forward to next year's birthday.

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