Sunday, July 12, 2009

“Finger Lickin’” not as tasty (Janet Evanovich)

From The Oklahoman --

“Finger Lickin’” not as tasty --
Fiction: 15th novel in Stephanie Plum series entertains but fails to satisfy

By Brandy McDonnell --
June 21, 2009 --

Fans smacking their lips in anticipation of the new Stephanie Plum adventure will savor the familiar flavor but not the past-the-expiration-date aftertaste of Janet Evanovich’s “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” (St. Martin’s Press, $27.95).

For better or worse, Evanovich is still cooking from the same recipe she used for the previous 14 installments. Despite her growing experience, Stephanie still blunders through her job as a bounty hunter, though lately her foibles seem more Murphy’s Law and less sheer ineptitude. Her cars keep exploding, she still attracts kooky characters, and she can never quite commit to a romance, though she chose long ago which of the series’ two alpha males was for her.

Still, “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen,” out Tuesday, offers a breezy summer read with just enough wackiness and mystery to keep fans entertained. Thankfully, there’s no sign of Stephanie’s grating sister, who nearly chased me away from the series a few books back.

Instead, “Fifteen” focuses on Stephanie’s colorful sidekick Lula, a former prostitute turned lazy file clerk who often rides shotgun for our heroine. When Lula witnesses the murder of TV food star Stanley Chipotle, she becomes the target of the killers, who soon prove dangerously inexpert. To his dismay, Stephanie’s cop ex-boyfriend Joe Morelli catches the case.

Lula wants to snare the murderers herself and collect the big reward. With the help of Stephanie’s quirky Grandma Mazur and a cross-dressing fireman, she enters the barbecue contest Chipotle was in town promoting in the hope of smoking out the killers.

For Stephanie’s part, her mentor/ex-lover Ranger recruits her to help solve a series of burglaries to clients of his Rangeman Security, inside jobs that have him distrusting his staff of toughs. As usual, the story heats up when Stephanie and Ranger work together.

Evanovich doesn’t use the food TV premise to its full potential. The madcap antics and zany characterizations are fun, but she’s used most of them before in previous books. The author seems unwilling to give her best-selling series the real shakeup it needs.

“Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” can’t compare to the tantalizing first six Plum novels, making the new book a tasty but not truly satisfying reading experience.

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