Janet Evanovich was a moderately successful writer of romance novels before she became the funniest thriller writer in the world, and I figured at some point that side of her would come out. It’s taken 17 books before the glorious madness that is the life of Stephanie Plum would start to take a turn toward the mundane normality of New Jersey polyamory, but that’s where the series is these days. In Smokin’ Seventeen and Explosive Eighteen, written and published less than 12 months apart, there’s a lot less insanity and a lot more about Plum’s love life.
At least she gets laid, a lot, once the grandmother of her sometimes boyfriend Morelli puts some type of evil-eye curse on her that makes her really, really horny. She goes back and forth between fucking Morelli, the Trenton cop, and fucking Ranger, the dangerous Cuban man of mystery (sounds like a romance novel, right?) -- and she spends a fair amount of time (way too much) trying to figure it all out.
Seventeen is all about sex and dead bodies, the ones that appear in the empty lot near the trailer where her cousin Vinny’s bail-bonds business is temporarily located now that his old office was blown up. Although neither of these books is as funny as the others in the series, they both still have the Evanovich charm: In Seventeen, there’s the Gonna Gork Meter, a 72-year-old guy who thinks he’s a vampire and keeps biting women on the neck and an FTA who meets Plum and her pal Lula like this:
Merlin answered the door at the second knock. He was naked again, and he had a boner.
Lula checked Merlin out. “Must be that time of day.”
Eighteen has a really dumb theme about Plum taking a dream vacation in Hawaii with one of the two men but we don’t know which one, a gimmick that doesn’t really work. (Note to My Favorite Funny Writer Ever: The romance thing didn’t work out well, remember? Stick to gorking and vampires.) There’s a missing picture that half the crooks in Jersey seem to want to kill someone over and they think Plum has it. It’s actually a little more of a continuing plot line than a lot of the other books, and there’s still some excellent moments featuring Grandma Mazur, who loves to attend funerals and remains one of the best characters in modern American literature:
“It got better after you left,” she said. “Melvin Shupe came through the line and cut the cheese right when he got up to the casket. He said he was sorry but the widow made a big fuss over it. And then the funeral director came with air freshener and when he sprayed it around, Louis Belman got an asthma attack and they had to cart her out the back door to get some air. Earl Krizinski was sitting behand me, and he said he saw Louisa’s underpants when they picked her up, and he said he got a stiffy.”
Let’s face it: If you’re an Evanovich fan, and millions of us are, you’re going to read both of these books anyway, and you’ll enjoy them just fine. But if you haven’t been introduced to the world of this particular Jersey girl, I’d start with another selection.