Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum)
St. Martin's Press, 320p, Isbn-0312383304
I generally always look forward to getting a good laugh with a Plum book in my hand. But the last few ones (excluding 15 which I missed reading for some mysterious reason?! I'll be reading and blogging it soon, btw, thanks to St.Martins who shot over a copy as soon as they realized I'd missed it - Thanks!!) barely coaxed a few smiles from me. However the long lasting effect of the initial books in this series (laugh out loud, rolling on the floor kind) are such that to date I pick up a Plum book with an anticipatory grin. Thank the good lord, this one does not disappoint - not entirely.
If you've not read this book, then don't read ahead as I'm revealing some of the plot in my detailed review below. Suffice to say that the book had moments that had me howling with laughter. And that too with my sleeping baby not far from where I was reading. Now I normally never make a sound in fear of waking her up, but this was just too good to stop laughing. Thankfully she didn't wake up although hubby did give me reproving looks, which vanished in an understanding smile when I pointed out the Evanovich cover. Even he understands why when Plum's in the house :)
Warning - Spoilers ahead
It started off tamely, without Stephanie's car burning up or exploding or getting destroyed in some manner, in the first few chapters. What?! I was disappointed. Apparently, this time it had already happened in the previous story (yes, in Fifteen, which I've yet to read) and so it starts off with Stephanie car-less. Not a promising beginning, I thought, my smile walking slowly to its grave. Uncle Pip's lucky bottle couldn't compensate for that kind of fiery mayhem to herald the beginning of a good Plum potboiler... or so I thought.
The story starts off with a ransom demand for slime ball Vinnie Plum's release - he's Stephanie's relative and employer with a penchant for abnormal sex (it involves prostitutes and sometimes, goats - don't ask!) and gambling. His lifestyle misdeeds, both sexual and financial, have finally caught up with him and a gangster named Bobby Sunflower has him hidden away somewhere pending ransom delivery. Faced with the prospect of losing the only job she's ever been even moderately good at, Stephanie joins forces with office manager Connie (a stink bomb expert with Mob family connections), and office file-er Lula (the plus size ex-prostitute ebony goddess who likes to wear tight clothes half her size) to try and rescue him and / or try to raise money for the ransom. All this happens between Stephanie's lackadaisical attempts at catching skips (people who skip their court date and thus forfeit their bail) in between numerous rounds of the local fast food joints with the ever-hungry and ever-on-a-strange-diet Lula.
Going off on a tangent - How Plum manages to continue buttoning the top button of her jeans on such a diet (not forgetting her Mom's delicious artery-clogging meals) is the true mystery.
It gets better with each successive chapter as Stephanie and Lula and Connie, together with Ranger's occasional invaluable assistance, try to do the right thing, but which often ends up wrong with entertaining comical consequences that range from an AWOL alligator to cow stampedes, firebombs, rabid Hobbits and more. It had me smiling and chuckling like I had actually eaten one of those special brownies Mooner had made. Grandma Mazur, in a disappointingly brief appearance, with her broken foot also provides mild entertainment.
Remember I'd mentioned Plum's car not blowing up that had me disappointed? Well, as compensation there's plenty of buildings blowing up, including Plum's office - enough to satisfy my latent pyromania. The ending is the pièce de résistance - a pure Plum experience of a rip roaring riot of characters with the good eventually triumphing over the bad.
On a romantic side note - Morelli is mostly in the background in this story and since I'm a Ranger fan, I was all for it. What did disappoint me is the sexual tension between Plum and Ranger comes close to fruition time and again, but nothing happens - sigh, disappointment galore for all Ranger fans. But that's what has been happening for the past so many books in this series. Enough already!
More than the good guys, it's the creatively crafted bad guys who're generally at the heart of a Plum novel. That's not so apparent in this story, at least until the end and even then it's sort of tame. I remember a time way back in this series (the pre-Lula era) when there were some seriously bad guys who added a dash of healthy fear to an otherwise zany, laughter-filled story. But those times are past. These days the villains in a Plum novel are more of the Pink Panther variety - bad (like the lettuce in my fridge) without being seriously scary (like a snake in my garden). Even Ranger and Morelli are more of a nod towards an eternally unresolved romance triangle, rather than true, passionate, caring lovers.
I hate to say this - but since the advent of the food-loving Lula, the emphasis of fast food in this series has gone way up. It has grown to such proportions that it dwarfs plot development all together which was slim to begin with. Even the romance angle has fallen by the wayside as Stephanie seems to spend more time driving Lula around to fast food joints and scarfing down doughnuts and chicken with her rather than try and make a decision about her love triangle or to even have a love life. Appearances by other series regulars (like Stephanie parents, Grandma Mazur, Joyce Barnhardt etc) has grown shorter and smaller and that's creating a lack of variety that I really miss. Lula provides tons of fun (pun not intended), but lately she's dwarfing everything else. This is a Stephanie Plum series and I wish I got to see Stephanie doing more, learning more, doing lots of physical comedy stuff, doing plenty of chasing the villains on her own, shooting off a gun once in a while, playing sex games with Ranger/Morelli, dealing with true bad ass villains and not spend all her time schlepping Lula about to fast-food joints. I sincerely wish the author will take that into consideration when writing the next book in this series.
In conclusion, I can honestly say I loved this story. It could be better, but in its present form, it's good.
This book was received for review/feature consideration.
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