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Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

Seventeen books in to her bestselling series, Janet Evanovich has her high-voltage, man-juggling bounty hunter Stephanie Plum right where she wants her. With pneuma

tic partner Lula always close at hand to provide comic relief and practical back-up, Stephanie enters Smokin’ Seventeen with a romantic dilemma and, possibly, under a curse.

As in previous outings, she continues to juggle an open relationship with a local cop, Joe Morelli, with regular trysts with a security expert, Ranger. Indisputably, she neither needs nor is seeking further personal entanglements – but her family puts paid to that by ushering in one Dave Brewer, the son of a family friend who has returned to the Plum stomping ground, blue-collar Trenton, New Jersey, following a messy legal entanglement and subsequent business and marital failures.

Shortly before the predictably awkward set-up, Stephanie is bailed up at a doughnut shop by Morelli’s fearsome grandmother, Bella, who gives her ‘the eye’ and curses her with unspecified maladies.

At the same time, a body is discovered on the property of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, where Stephanie works for her cousin. In all, five bodies are found, and Trenton authorities are on the trail of a serial killer. It speaks to the rich vein of mirth in Evanovich’s storytelling that the killings and the apparent effects of the curse carry equal portions of the plot.

The curse, it transpires, may relate to Stephanie’s libido, and certainly relates to a memorable scene involving a Porsche 911 and a blind alley in the bad part of town. The serial killer, for his part, will be lucky indeed to elude the snare of Stephanie and luscious Lula, who advocates regular fried-chicken breaks and takes imaginative umbrage at being called ‘fat’ (news of an upcoming Stephanie Plum movie, with Katherine Heigl in the starring role, is heartening chiefly for the prospect of Lula being brought to celluloid life).

It’s fitting that Smokin’ Seventeen reads like a high-camp action movie. When Lula tires of the histrionics exhibited by one of the pair’s ‘FTAs’ (for failure to appear, the people they make a living from tracking down and returning to custody), she merely pulls her stun-gun out of her purse and zaps him. He’s not a threat – he believes himself to be a vampire, and Stephanie and Lula have tracked him down at the local funeral home, where he spends his days in a casket.

Later, Stephanie refutes the unwanted advances of an admirer by belting him in the side of the head with her hairdryer and leaving him outside her apartment to take his leave once he has come to. She also pulls the stun-gun trick on a less-than-kindly stranger who elbows her in a queue. Never are Stephanie and Lula subjected to legal chastisement or read the civil rights riot act. That would just spoil the fun.

It’s light fiction, no question, but Evanovich has a rare talent for comic writing, and readers rightly keep returning to her tightly bordered world in which the usual rules don’t apply. While Sizzling Sixteen seemed to suffer from a lack of inspiration – Stephanie went through her paces, but appeared plagued by a vague malaise – Smokin’ Seventeen has her back on form.

Previously reviewed on Coast FM.

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones


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