Put together the phrases “comfort food” and “mystery novel” and you’ll probably find character Stephanie Plum in the answer column. Author Janet Evanovich, a former romance writer looking to move into a better paying sector of the book writing business, found the mother lode when she first created Stephanie and hasn’t quit since. Unfortunately, or fortunately for her most devoted fans, nothing much ever changes in Stephanie land, asLean Mean Thirteen
Stephanie still works in her perverted cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds office. She goes after skips who have bonded out on Vinnie’s dime and failed to return for their court appearances. The job apparently doesn’t pay well – she lives from paycheck to desperate paycheck in every book– but for some reason she stays, maybe because of all the crazy situations she gets drawn into. She isn’t particularly accomplished, but she isn’t a damsel in distress either. She solves her cases through equal measure luck and determination with occasional help from the men in her life. In just about every book, she ends up blowing up or burning down cars, apartments and houses with some regularity. The demise of the funeral home in an earlier book was probably her best work.
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The 13th book finds Stephanie, as usual, torn between Joe Morelli, the cop with commitment issues and Ranger, the mysterious, not always above-the-law independent bounty hunter. To give Evanovich credit, she’s left the conventions of the romance field far behind in terms of Stephanie’s sexual feelings. Not that there’s explicit sex, but this is clearly a woman with urges that never seem to get neatly tied up by the end of the book.
In this episode of the Stephanie adventure, her ex-husband Dickie “the dick” is back and up to some shady dealings. Subplots include a gravedigger who redigs up the recently departed if they happen to be sporting good suits and jewelry on their way out and a taxidermist who likes creating exploding rodents from road kill.
It’s not great classic literature, but it is funny and readable and like a McDonald’s at the end of a long day of driving on a family road trip -- reading Evanovich is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself. And have a donut while you’re at it. – Margaret Downing
Lean Mean Thirteen, by Janet Evanovich, St. Martin’s Press, $27.95