"Finger Lickin' Fifteen" by Janet Evanovich: Book Review

"Finger Lickin' Fifteen" by Janet Evanovich St. Martin's, 308 pp., $27.95 Reviewed by David Marshall James The laughs keep coming, like PBJs at a kindergarten field day, in Janet Evanovich's most recent Stephanie Plum opus. For the uninitiated, Steph works as a bond-enforcement agent (bad-azzedly also known as a "bounty hunter") for her uncle's bail bonds office in downtown Trenton, N.J. Her beleaguered mother wishes she would settle down in a nice office, or at least at the button factory. Or, just settle down-- period. However, Steph was burned by a short-lived early marriage and thus remains leery of retying the matrimonial knot. Besides, she's on the outs with her steady, Trenton cop Joe Morelli, because of an argument that began over a peanut-butter jar and then escalated out of control. Steph loves her PBJs, as well as her PBs w/ olives and PBs w/ crumbled potato chips, and she's forever leaving the dregs of her sammie accouterments in the jar. Hence, the brouhaha. When she's not slapping a sammie together-- she leaves the cooking to her mother, who makes a mean green-bean casserole and pineapple upside-down cake-- she's either at the Cluck in a Bucket or Pino's (for pizza, or a meatball sub) or Tasty Pastry (nothing like a frosted doughnut with sprinkles, or a neglected birthday cake). IOW: she doesn't cook. At least, not in the kitchen. However, her coworker Lula-- the plus-size file clerk who favors neon-bright and/or sequinned Spandex miniskirts-- attempts to perfect a barbecue sauce (hence the title-- one hopes) for a cook-off contest. In this volume, Lula soon finds herself pursued by two unsavory guys who whacked a celebrity chef who's in town for the sauce-athon, as she is the sole witness to the crime. In her quest for the perfect sauce, Lula commandeers one kitchen after another, along with Steph's Grandma Mazur, who lives with Steph's mother and father in a duplex row house in the Chambersburg neighborhood of Trenton ("The Burg"). Grandma Mazur is still taking in all the viewings at Stiva's funeral home, loading up on the free cookies when she's not prying open a closed casket lid. The "B plot" has Steph moonlighting at Rangeman security firm, as her super-sexy bud, Ranger, is being besieged by code-hacking thieves at his clients' houses, and he's afraid it's an inside job, so he wants Steph to spy on the employees. Nevertheless, the show belongs to Lula, and it's "da bomb." Evanovich delivers all the goods and goodies that readers have come to expect from her-- and then some. Here's to a memorable barbecue, to a laugh feast. Call it "Humongously Hilarious Fifteen." * * *