Saturday, May 10, 2014

Takedown Twenty

Author: Janet Evanovich
Genre: Chick mystery? It has a shiny cover.
Original Pub. Date: 2013

There are a few popular female authors out there -- Barbara Cartland, Nora Roberts -- who have a seemingly superhuman ability to pump out mediocre books at a rate that would be considered alarming if they were producing, say, enriched plutonium. Janet Evanovich isn't quite in that class, but with about 50 books to her name she's definitely in the silver-medal running. (If Barbara Cartland is Soviet Russia, Evanovich might be the equivalent of those Libyans in the van in Back to the Future, to extend the plutonium idea past its point of usefulness.)

Takedown Twenty is actually the twenty-fourth (if you count the "between-the-numbers" holiday-themed books) novel in Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, the long-running saga of a former lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter from Trenton, NJ. In the first book, twenty-something, pretty, not-badass-at-all Stephanie's out of work, and rather than go to the personal products plant and get a job putting maxi pads in boxes, her mother's suggestion, she blackmails her sleazy cousin Vinnie into giving her a bounty hunter job at his bail bonds business.

If you think predictable hijinks immediately ensue, well, don't bother thinking again. The charm of this series isn't in its leaps of startling literary innovation. It's charming nonetheless; Evanovich has a good sense of humor and knows how to do slapstick while keeping readers invested in her characters as people. She's also adept at writing plots that are just simple enough to be blown through in a day while you're drinking coffee and lounging around but complex enough that they're not boring. Basically, she's your garden-variety bestseller-writer, with a little more pleasant goofiness than most.

But Janet Evanovich has achieved something notable with Takedown Twenty that's worthy of special praise; in fact, she's done something unique in my experience. I've touched before on series-itis, the tendency of authors of long-running series to start writing on autopilot and reducing their characters to sad, cardboard caricatures. (Let us all have a moment of silence for the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, may it rest in peace.)

And in about books 14 through 18 or 19, Evanovich was following this pattern to the T. The supporting characters had all become their own shadows, the overall plot arc had stalled out like a Dodge Aspen, and I was just about to give up. It takes a lot to make me give up -- like, the only series I haven't even been tempted to finish began with possibly the worst book ever written.*

But lo and behold! Along came Takedown Twenty, which doesn't quite recapture the magic of the first ten books, but which is head and shoulders better than the last five or six at least. There's a love triangle in the series, of course -- although given some very popular but dreadful series out there, we're lucky it's just a triangle and not a hexagon or worse -- and for the first time in many books, I felt like there were some hints of a shift in the relationships between Stephanie and her two paramours. Overall, Evanovich seems to have recaptured her joie de vivre and resumed some interest in the series again, and I'm genuinely looking forward to the twenty-first book, due out in June.

Since I hear that book reviews are supposed to include some discussion of what happens in the actual book, I'll just tell you that there's a runaway giraffe and some mobsters. Anyone who's read previous books in this series will immediately fill in the blanks, and if you haven't read any of them, it's pointless to try to summarize this one for you. Bottom line: most mystery/chick lit readers will enjoy the Stephanie Plum series. If this is your dish of tea, I say go for it and read them all. This one gets 3.5 stars.

* Yep, I'm including this.

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