Perhaps you noticed how badly my last Evanovich experiment turned out. Perhaps you are shocked (as am I, rather) that I tried again. Well, for one, I was still trying to figure out what people like so much about Evanovich; I hope to be the kind of librarian who at least knows something about all the different genres and tastes. Also, I spoke with a friendly regular patron after my failed attempt with one of her little-known romance novels (above), and decided I was misguided in judging her based on that. I was advised to try again with the Stephanie Plum series, and so I picked up the very first. [For the record, yes, duh, I should have started here in the first place. I did know these were her bigtime contributions. But I guess I was trying to knock out a pure-romance-genre read - again for the sake of breadth in my reading - at the same time. Failure. Note: Always read what the author is famous for.]
For those that don’t know, Stephanie Plum is reluctantly and accidentally employed as a bounty hunter in New Jersey. This first book is her intro to the business. She’s an unlikely candidate, but she needs the money – Plum is kind of a mess, but a cute one. Her first job is to hunt down Joe Morelli, to whom she lost her virginity behind an eclair case in high school. Her feelings for him are mixed, but she barely has time to even try to work them out as the corpses mount up around her, she’s stalked by a sadistic serial rapist, and somebody else is trying to kill her.
I know, just from cover blurbs and general awareness, that Plum has a ping-pong-style love triangle with Morelli and fellow bounty hunter Ranger. This love triangle and sexual tension, as I understand it, is going strong – and still unresolved – after the recent publication of Smokin’ Seventeen, the 17th (yes, true) in her by-the-numbers Plum series. On top of these there are a number of between-the-numbers Stephanie Plum novels, so that for over 20 books, Evanovich’s fans have been eagerly awaiting resolution. Or have they? Maybe they enjoy this ongoing tension and drama, but I have read a few reviews myself indicating that her readers do desire decision. I confess, this is something that would get old for me. Indecisiveness, especially of the multiple-lovers variety, is a bit of a peeve of mine.
Another mild complaint: I’m not offended by sex or violence. I literally haven’t found my boundaries yet; I can handle whatever an author throws. But! I am offended, stylistically, by gratuitousness. And I found some of the sexual references gratuitous. Again, I’m not much of a reader of romance novels; I suspect this is a staple of the steamier of that genre that its readers expect and cherish. But the random appearance of genitalia for its own sake throws me off and yes, offends me – not because it’s sex, but because it’s random. [Seekers of "clean" books, look elsewhere.]
I was conflicted during most of my reading of this book. Stephanie Plum is feisty, hectic, and cute; she has attitude; her narrative voice is funny. Funny things happen to her: awkward moments and moments of conflicted sexual tension. There is some real humor here. But I was annoyed, too. I realize that the outlandish, unrealistic, pure silliness of these story lines are part of their appeal – Evanovich’s fans appreciate this – but I don’t think it’s for me. I’m too easily exasperated with Plum and her indecision (did I say that already?) and her clumsiness and poor decision-making. These books may not be my cup – but of course that’s a subjective judgment, and that doesn’t mean others can’t enjoy them.
I was repeatedly tempted to put this book down, but I hung in there. Just as I got annoyed by Plum (I promise you, if we were friends, I would constantly be rolling my eyes, sighing, and giving her unsolicited advice. Maybe we wouldn’t be friends very long), she’d make me giggle and I’d decide to keep going. Plus, I already quit on Evanovich once, and I was determined to see this one through.
After finishing the book, I remain ambivalent. This book did make me laugh, and it did keep me turning the pages, so Evanovich accomplished several goals: suspense and humor. But I finished with the same exasperation and frustration I’d felt for the whole book. I don’t entirely respect Plum. I’ve had my share of male-female interactions, and I don’t think people behave like this in the real world. It reads like a romance novel, not like life. I’m bothered by the scene, prevalent in romance novels, wherein a man can seduce a woman by being aggressive, rough, rude, even violent. I think this is a dangerous concept to propagate. But perhaps my overarching complaint is, this book is silly. And pointing to this as a criticism rather than a selling point is a matter of my personal taste, not of the objective value of Evanovich’s work.
As a final aside, it was cute to see how dated some of the details were. Cassette tapes, and the impressive tape deck in Morelli’s tricked-out Jeep, made me flip to the front for the publication date: 1994. Rather a fun little blast from the past. As you may have noticed, I’m not too concerned with reading series in order, but I’m glad I started at the beginning of this one. I’m willing to give Evanovich credit – sight unseen – that her characters & style develop as the series progresses. I’m happy to have started off at the beginning.
Final verdict? My options would have to be pretty slim to pick up another one of these books, but at least I now understand what Evanovich fans are looking for. She’s not to my personal taste. But I can see the appeal.