"Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evanovich
Bantam, 308 pp., $28
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Long before HD, there was a TV ad for a TV that claimed to "grab your picture, to align it and define it."
That's a fair assessment of what Janet Evanovich has accomplished with her Stephanie Plum series.
She's aligned it and defined it-- and refined it.
Principally, she always brings back your favorite characters, and in the proper doses.
Stephanie. Her Grandma Mazur. Her 'rents.
Her paramours, Joe Morelli and Ranger.
Lula-- the Ethel Mertz to Stephanie's Lucy Ricardo. (Naw, better make that the Laverne to Stephanie's Shirley.)
Stephanie's employer, bail bondsman (and cousin) Vinnie.
His pulled-together secretary, Connie.
And lately, Mooner-- the Dude.
(Incidentally, until construction is complete on its burned-out former location, the bonds office is operating out of Mooner's bus. Business has plummeted, but wait till you get a load of Vinnie's advertising scheme.)
There are other characters-- such as Stephanie's sister and her family (the Klaughns), Stephanie's nemesis-since-high-school (Joyce Barnhardt), Ranger's special-ops security team (most notably, Tank), and the basis for the Broadway musical "Wicked" (Morelli's Grandma Bella)-- who come and go in the Evanovich oeuvre.
Nevertheless, the author knows who the stars of her show are, and how to pair and group them for maximum effect.
She could also write a book on how to pace a novel-- one adventure follows another, and these all fit together as a whole.
As in the hole of a doughnut (with lots of icing and sprinkles) from Stephanie's and Lula's favorite bakery, Tasty Pastry.
In this latest Plum opus, three people are out to off Stephanie.
Plus, her Mom is determined to marry her off to the recently returned captain of their high-school football team.
Morelli has failed to produce a ring; furthermore, Stephanie is terrified of his Grandma Bella, to the point of refusing to attend Morelli's family gatherings.
Ranger simply isn't the marrying type.
The lovin's good with both, so what's Stephanie supposed to do-- marry Morelli, then almost immediately be tempted into breaking their vows with Ranger?
Besides, she's done the marriage thing. Joyce Barnhardt ruined that for her. But, if it hadn't been her, it would have been someone else.
Perhaps, one day, when Grandma Bella's flown off into the West on her broomstick, and Ranger has opted for another babe, Stephanie will commit to Morelli. And his dog, Bob.
But, then, her life would be merely OK.
Right now, it's SM-OK-IN'.
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