Saturday, July 11, 2009

Murder Well Done (Janet Evanovich)

From The New York Times --

Murder Well Done --

Published: June 19, 2009 --

Don’t kid yourself — going to sleep is a scary business. Which is why children are comforted by hearing the same stories over and over at bedtime. Certain kinds of mysteries have a similar effect on grown-ups, delivering familiar themes and ritualistic procedures that promise a safe haven in a world of darkness. Which is why rational adults who can’t bear to open their 401(k) statements will rush out to buy FINGER LICKIN’ FIFTEEN (St. Martin’s, $27.95), the “new” Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich. Whatever bad news might be coming, the madcap heroine in these comic farces won’t be delivering it.

Life is always hectic in the blue-collar Trenton neighborhood where the disaster-prone Stephanie works as an enforcement agent in her cousin Vinny’s bail bond firm. This time, a lunatic known as Marco the Maniac takes a meat cleaver to a celebrity chef bound for the big barbecue cook-off to be held at Gooser Park. Eye on the reward, Stephanie’s obstreperous fat friend, Lula, decides to enter the cook-off, which she reckons will attract the killer. In a plot complication that’s no more plausible but reinforces the sexual dynamic between Stephanie and the men in her life, she’s hired by the dangerously attractive Ranger (“a man of mysterious talents”) to investigate the humiliating break-ins that have tarnished the reputation of his fancy security firm.

Like Little Annie Fanny in the vintage Playboy cartoon, Stephanie tends to shed articles of clothing as she becomes splattered with paint or doused with barbecue sauce during the course of her duties. Since fire often figures prominently in Stephanie’s misadventures, you can also count on a few cars and one or more rooms of her apartment going up in flames. Of course, the most spectacular conflagration is reserved for the barbecue.

But even as these catastrophic events are unfolding, the author allows her heroine to keep in touch with the supportive people and familiar places that represent home base. Rest assured, there are disorderly dinners at her family’s home and a rowdy wake attended by Grandma Mazur at Stiva’s Funeral Home, along with the usual high jinks from the colorful crooks and perverts Stephanie encounters on the job. It’s not all mechanical nuts and bolts, either. Evanovich writes with flair in an absurdist vein that her imitators can only envy. (“The bacon diet is unhealthy,” Stephanie solemnly advises Lula. “You had packs of dogs chasing you down the street when you were on the bacon diet.”) And while Evanovich may go overboard on the comic mayhem, she does it only so the kids are sent off to sleep smiling.

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