Since One For the Money I've been enjoying the exploits of Janet Evanovich's loveable heroine Stephanie Plum. I've been faithfully reading them for quite some time now, always eager to look for the next one. There's something delightfully light about them; they don't take themselves too seriously and Evanovich certainly doesn't take them too seriously, which has been nice.
Stephanie Plum is a former lingerie-buyer who has blackmailed her cousin Vinnie into giving her a job at his bail enforcement office. Lately, however, this 'bail enforcement agent' job, which the entire series has been predicated, has been little more than a plot point. Whereas the stories in the first several books revolved around a high-profile 'skip' that Stephanie has to track down, lately the books have been centered around things unrelated or tangenitally related to Stephanie's job.
For instance, this time around, Lula (a 300+ pound, mocha-skinned, former hooker and now part-time file clerk at the office, and Stephanie's sometime-partner) witnesses the murder of a celebrity chef and becomes a target herself. Lula has an aversion to police, and so will only agree to see Joe Morelli.
Morelli is Stephanie's on-again, off-again boyfriend (currently off-again, though one would need to read one of Evanovich's 'Between the Numbers' books to understand why) and a vice cop in Trenton. He takes care of Lula as best he can as the killers attempt to silence Lula.
When a reward for someone who can solve the murder is offered by the BBQ company that sponsored the dead celebrity chef, Lula decides that she should enter the company's BBQ cook-off. The only problem is that Lula can't cook. Neither can Stephanie, or Grandma Mazur. Hilarious hijinx ensue as the three women try to develop a BBQ sauce. Needless to say they solve the mystery, but the end is unsatisfying.
The book is peppered with the trademarks of Plum novels: the mental struggle between Morelli and Ranger in Stephanie's mind; her arch-nemesis Joyce Barnhardt; a trip to the funeral parlor; things blowing up. And yet much of these things feel very phoned in. The chemistry that once existed between Stephanie and Morelli feels strained, as does the chemistry between Stephanie and Ranger. Joyce's presence is confusing, as it doesn't really offer anything to the plot.
However, the problem with the book isn't that you don't like it. Indeed, I tried hard not to like it, especially given the ever-decreasing quality of Evanovich's Plum novels. But when it comes to Stephanie's adventures in Trenton with Lula, Grandma Mazur, and the others, it's hard not to enjoy it.