Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fearless Fourteen (book) by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum's life, as always, is complicated. Romantically, things aren't going too badly. Her life with cop Joe Morelli is happy and nearly settled. Ranger still makes it clear that he'd like to get in her pants, but Stephanie continues to resist well enough and Ranger generally behaves himself. On the job front, things are more complex. Ranger has Stephanie help him out with a babysitting job, making sure that singer Brenda (who, if I remember right, is in her fifties or sixties - I couldn't relocate any of the bits in the book that say her age) stays out of trouble and reasonably sober - this is harder than you might think. Also, in the process of doing her job as a bond enforcement agent, Stephanie ends up having to take care of a teenager with a graffiti habit and having to find the poor kid's kidnapped mother.

If you've read all the other Stephanie Plum novels, you're not really going to find anything new in this one. As I said, Stephanie's relationships are in a holding state. Morelli almost slips up and proposes, but not really, so it doesn't count. Ranger flirts a bit and wonders aloud why he's continuing with this relationship when it's not really ending up where he wants it to end up, but he otherwise behaves himself. Grandma Mazur is, as usual, wild and wacky - in this book, Mario aka Zook, the teenager Stephanie ends up having to watch out for, gets Grandma involved in online gaming. Mooner shows up and, although he says he's drug-free, acts like his usual stoner self. About the only thing that's new is that Lula has decided she and Tank are going to get married, and Tank isn't required to have any say in any of it.

That's not to say that this book isn't enjoyable. I read this when I needed a laugh, and it did the job. It just didn't progress the series or the characters very much. In fact, this book reminded me very much of Lean Mean Thirteen. Both books have weird weaponry - that book has exploding taxidermied animals, while this one has a cannon used to shoot potatoes, tomatoes, and other edibles. Also, both books involve bad guys who are trying to find something that is either is Stephanie's possession or in the possession of someone close to her, like Morelli. It's a bit like Evanovich recycled the same plot points in two different books, which wouldn't be so bad if the books didn't come one right after the other in the series.

I think my biggest complaint about this book is that Evanovich didn't wrap everything up properly - it kind of made it seem like even she didn't really feel all that involved in the story. Unless I missed it, she never resolved Lula and Tank's rapidly deteriorating engagement - it's pretty obvious that the two shouldn't be getting married, since the very idea makes Tank want to pass out, but neither of them has called the engagement off by the end of the book. Evanovich also never explained where the severed toes came from (if you read the book, you know what I'm talking about), unless I missed that explanation. You'd think that at least Stephanie and Morelli would try to find out where the toes came from, since they had to come from an actual person who might now be needing some help, but no one really reacts in any way other than relief that the toes didn't come from the person they feared they came from. That doesn't make sense to me - it's a gaping plot hole left by Evanovich's desire to wrap things up happily without having to go through the effort of figuring out a plausible explanation that might make things unhappy again. The lack of explanation felt like a lazy cop-out.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse (book) by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace - Those who were especially interested in Zook and Grandma Mazur's paranoid comments about griefers might like this book, although I think Evanovich's idea of what gamers and gaming are like is a little bit out there. This book is an interesting window into the kinds of amazing, interesting, and sometimes appalling things that can happen in virtual worlds like The Sims Online and Second Life. Personally, I enjoyed the descriptions of virtual terrorism (for example, a virtual bomb that managed to crash Second Life's servers) and virtual mobsters and hitmen (much like what you see in the Godfather movies, only entirely limited to virtual worlds). It's fascinating stuff, and, if I remember right, this book even has a few pictures.
  • While You Were Sleeping (live action movie) - A lonely ticket collector for the Chicago transit system falls in love with a man she sees getting on the train every day, even though she's never actually had a conversation with him. She ends up saving his life and goes to visit him at the hospital, where she is mistaken as his fiancee. She gets to know and love his family and worries about what will happen when he comes out of the coma. Those who like Stephanie's oddball family might like this movie - the family in this movie isn't nearly as strange, but it has the same general happy, supportive feel.
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter with a laid-back attitude, amazing fighting skills, and a dark past. He's partners with Jet Black, a former cop, and, as the series progresses, his group grows to include Faye Valentine (a sexy, tricky gambler who can't really remember her past) and Ed (a weird and cheerful young hacker). A lot of the episodes, especially the earlier ones, are mostly humorous and include a lot of fast, madcap action - those who liked the action and humorous aspects of Fearless Fourteen might like this series.

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