St Martin’s Press, 318 pp, $27.95
I’m just going to come right out and say it: Janet Evanovich is the funniest writer to come along on the scene since Carl Hiassen, and in some ways, she’s got Hiassen beat. He writes about Florida, where unreal people do some bizarre stuff; her turf is Jersey, where the characters are pretty close to normal life. Which is to say, totally strange and fucked up. She is my favorite living writer, and after fourteen previous novels, the tales of Stephanie Plum and her cohorts just seem to get better.
Finger Lickin’ Fifteen is among the best of the series. Before you even get to page five, there’s a decapitation, witnessed by Lula, the ‘ho turned bounty hunter who works with Plum. And not just any decapitation: A guy swings a meat cleaver, the head hits the ground, blood spurts up like Old Faithful, Lula tells the story in vivid detail, Stephanie throws up … it’s glorious.
The scene in Trenton hasn’t changed much since the last book, except that Plum has temporarily broken up with her boyfriend Morelli. She’s still working for her cousin’s bail bonds agency, still trying to make a living catching deadbeats, still trying to figure out which hot guy she wants more, Morelli the cop or the mysterious (and even hotter) Ranger, who’s an insanely cool and tough private security mogul.
It turns out that the headless guy is a celebrity chef, and Plum and her gang think the hit may be all about barbecue sauce, and wind up investigating, sort of. And of course, Plum’s Grandma Masur, one of the great characters in the history of American literature, gets deeply involved.
I’ll just give you a few tidbits of why I love Janet Evanovich. Here’s Lula on men: “You don’t want to go around thinkin’ shit is your fault. Next thing you know, they got you makin’ pot roast and you’re cutting up your Mastercard.”
Grandma Masur on a neighbor girl: “She was Mary Jane Turley then. Up until the fourth grade, she quacked like a duck. Never said a blessed word in school. Just quacked. And then one day she fell off the top of the sliding board in the park and hit her head and started talking. Never quacked again. Not to this day.”
Some of the things that happen in this book: An exploding back yard gas grill sets off a huge fire in her family’s back yard. A toxic barbecue sauce gives everyone horrible diarrhea. An exploding pressure cooking puts a dent in Plum’s ceiling. A cross-dressing chef works days in a chicken outfit. Plum goes on a blind date with a man named Peter Pecker. Two guys in Zorro masks toss a fire bomb into her building. A car bomb blows up Lula’s ride. Grandma Masur shoots a guy’s ear off. Lula is stuck in a car window until she farts for a minute straight. There’s a lot of talk of doo-dah, hoo-hah, winkie, cooter, wangers, boners, and the knicky-knacky.
It's enough to make me proud to be an American.