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Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich


Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter in Trenton, New Jersey. She works for her cousin Vinnie at Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, alongside the colourful Lula, whom she describes as “the office file clerk, wheelman, and fashion maven. Lula likes the challenge of fitting her plus-size body into a size 8 poison green spandex miniskirt and leopard-print top . . . [her] skin is milk chocolate, her hair this week is fire-engine red, and her attitude is pure Jersey.”


Lula is on a diet which allows her to eat one of everything: “. . . one pea, one piece of asparagus, one loaf of bread.” And one of each type of doughnut, as a drive-by of a pastry shop reveals. After 48 hours on the diet, she confesses to having gained a couple of pounds, but suspects it’s just water retention.


You might surmise that Lula is the best reason to read this fluffy 16th installment in Janet Evanovich’s smash-hit Stephanie Plum series, and you’d be right, but that’s not an ungenerous assessment. In fact, Lula embodies the levity, archness and pure fun that explain the success of the series and the fondness constant readers have developed for its recurring co-stars.


In Sizzling Sixteen, the activities of Stephanie, Lula and their office manager Connie are severely curtailed when Vinnie is found to have been taken hostage by a local gangster, Bobby Sunflower, to whom he owes a gambling debt of $786,000.


Normally, the crew could turn to Vinnie’s illicitly wealthy father-in-law, Harry the Hammer, but since Vinnie was picked up by a Sunflower goon while “boffing a Stark Street ‘ho”, in flagrant violation of his marital contract with Harry’s daughter Lucille, Stephanie concludes that Harry is not the person to turn to for a bail-out.


So it falls to Miss Plum and her colleagues to find Vinnie and set him free without any of the good guys taking a bullet – or falling prey to a mobster’s pet alligator.


Comprehensive and various assistance is provided by Stephanie’s on-off boyfriend, ‘Trenton’s hottest cop’ Joe Morelli, and (since Morelli and Stephanie are presently in an ‘off’ phase) a second love interest, a former Special Forces agent and now private security operative known only as Ranger, who uncomplainingly replaces each of the high-end vehicles Stephanie wrecks in the course of the rescue mission.


Like Evanovich’s earlier Plum novels, Sizzling Sixteen is characterized by plenty of action, a little gentle raunch and scenes that should be suspenseful but are instead uproariously funny, mostly because Stephanie and her girls refuse to take anything seriously. Their reaction to being confronted by a trio of henchmen who shoot through their office door is to lecture them about the cost of replacement; when a bullet graze’s Lula’s arm, she is specific in her indignation (“That a**hole shot me. Somebody get me a Band-Aid. I’m gonna be real upset if I get blood on this tank top. It was one-of-a-kind at T.J.Maxx. I was lucky to find it.”).


The lack of suspense is no flaw: the point is not what happens in the end, it’s the getting there. It’s like taking a frenetic hayride with the combined casts of The Sopranos and Jersey Shore, with frequent stops for doughnuts and fried chicken, and delivers lightness and elevation on a winter’s day.


Previously published on Coast.co.nz


Reviewer: Stephanie Jones

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