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Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

"I don’t feel so good,” Lula said. “It was that last doughnut. There was something wrong with it. It was one of them cream-filled, and I think they used old cream.”

”You ate ten!”

”Yeah, and none of the others bothered me. I’m telling you, it was that last doughnut. I’d feel better if I could burp.”

A typical exchange in Explosive Eighteen between Janet Evanovich’s stalwart bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and her loyal offsider, zaftig ex-prostitute Lula involves junk food. Lula nabs her prey with an aplomb that matches her appetite, and breaks for reviving fried-chicken lunches several times a day. (Shortly after the above conversation, the two women use the scent of a fresh pizza to apprehend an FTA (failure to appear) – but not before Lula packs away several slices: “I thought it might settle my stomach, but I was wrong.”)

The funny thing about the Plum series, now 18 books deep, is that while there’s nothing new under the Jersey sun, the set-pieces are so sharply written, the dialogue so snappy and the supporting cast so deliciously batty that the lure is as irresistible as that pizza.

Stephanie is a Jersey-fied, loosely mob-linked, grown-up Trixie Belden. She works at Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, the business owned by her erstwhile cousin, who has so much trouble staying on the right side of the law long enough to get any straight work done that Stephanie basically runs the show.

The plots of the Plum books are beside the point, and in Explosive Eighteen Evanovich has barely bothered. Between skits involving the captures of FTAs and bone-crunching takedowns of anonymous bad guys, she makes a stab at a putative storyline: on a flight from Miami to New Jersey, Stephanie is seated next to a man who, by mistake, puts an unmarked surveillance photograph of an unidentified man in her carry-on bag. On discovering it at home, she traces it back to her aircraft companion . . . who has since been found murdered and stuffed in an airport rubbish bin. The photograph is of value and is sought by many, but Stephanie has already disposed of it.

You’ll forget how the matter is resolved even as you’re reading. What constant readers will relish are Stephanie’s encounters with longtime paramours Ranger and Morelli (both of whom feature in the sojourn to Miami), and the family-dinner interludes, which are hilariously discomforting to all but her elderly grandmother:

"You need Annie to help you,” Grandma said. “She’s real smart. She’s fixing everyone up at bowling. She even had a man in mind for me, but I told her he was too old. I don’t want some flabby, wrinkled codger to take care of. I want a young stud with a nice firm behind.”

My mother refilled her wineglass and my father put his fork down and hit his head on the table. BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG.

“Go for it,” I said to Grandma.

“I’m not so old,” Grandma said. “There’s parts of me don’t sit as high as they used to, but I’ve got some miles left.”

My father pantomimed stabbing himself in the eye with his fork.

There’s no shortage of pace left in her granddaughter either. Evanovich is on a good wicket, and with the first movie adaptation of a Plum novel, One for the Money, coming soon with Katherine Heigl in the lead role, the series is likely to remain high-octane for a while yet.

Previously reviewed on Coast FM.

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones


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