Warning: All subsequent reviews for this series may contain spoilers for earlier novels in the series.
By the time I was getting to the ninth book in this series by author Janet Evanovich (and fellow New Hampshire resident), I was getting worried that I was either (a) suffering from Stephanie Plum burnout or (b) the author was running out of new ideas for the character. The last two books hadn’t been up to what I’d expected from earlier books in the series.
Not that as a whole the premise isn’t a terrific one and generally well executed so far. Stephanie Plum, for those of you not familiar with the name, is a former lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, New Jersey. She has an on-again, off-again boyfriend in local vice cop Joe Morelli with whom she shares a long, sordid history. Her “partner” is the mysterious Ranger, although throughout the series it’s been more like him taking her under his wing. The two also share a chemistry that’s constantly smoldering just below the surface. Along the way there have been many peripheral characters, such as Stephanie’s family and the other two women who work in Vinnie’s office.
This time Stephanie’s hot on the trail of Samuel Singh. Singh hasn’t violated a bail bond – this time it’s something new. Vinnie got into the business of writing bonds for temporary immigrants to assure that they will not disappear once their time allotted to work in the country is over. Just as he’s getting major coverage in the paper about this, the subject of his newest endeavor disappears, along with his landlady’s dog.
With little to go on, Stephanie focuses on Singh’s place of employment. Soon, she is receiving threats along with flowers. People she interviews in connection with Singh are dying before her eyes. When Singh is sighted in Las Vegas, Stephanie takes off with the other women from Vinnie’s office in tow. However, her dreams of an easy apprehension in Vegas are soon dashed and she’s once again finding herself as the prey in the sights of a seemingly merciless hunter.
To The Nines was definitely a breath of fresh air in the recent history of Ms. Plum. I had been feeling exasperated at Stephanie repeating the same dim-witted mis-steps over and over again. Here, she finds new and different ones. That’s okay since that’s part of what’s endearing about the character. I just find myself wishing she learns a little something from her mistakes. There’s virtually no other bail violators she’s actively pursuing, so the stupid factor in this regard is minimal. At the same time, she continues to be reluctant to allow others to help her when she’s in danger, be it Morelli or Ranger. While this is something that ticks me off from time to time, I recognize that the story overall would suffer for it.
That aside, To The Nines moves at a great pace with plenty of action, mostly in the form of Stephanie being pursued. There’s also comedy galore. The comic relief from her family doesn’t come from the nutty, eccentric Grandma Mazur this time around but from Stephanie’s seemingly perfect sister Valerie. Although I felt like things had moved along a bit too fast in Valerie’s life from Hard Eight to this book, the story she’s given here is pretty funny. She’s about to explode from pregnancy and most of the focus is on what and how much she’s eating.
Instead of going through cars like they are going out of style, a Stephanie Plum trademark, this time she’s taking out Ranger’s associates who he’s put in place to watch out for her. This includes a very creative way involving Valerie going into labor.
Written after the events of 9/11, there are references to the increased security as Stephanie and the girls travel to Vegas. I didn’t think much about the timing until this subject came up, and then I thumbed to the front of the book to see exactly when it was published. I like how Evanovich had woven the climate of the times into the story without being overt about the situation. The same is true with the updating of the technology since One for the Money.
Evanovich also brought more out about peripheral character Connie, something I really liked. Connie’s been there since day one and yet readers knew very little about her until To The Nines. It wasn’t an omission that made the stories suffer, but it felt like an “Oh yeah” moment when I began reading this part and realized that there was much more to her.
As usual, To The Nines is told in the first person by Stephanie. This is nice as it puts me in her shoes. I know what she knows and what she’s thinking. It’s an interesting perspective to read and I quite enjoy it. She unravels the mystery slowly and even I wasn’t able to get a bead on just who the killer might be until almost the end of the book.
One thing I think Evanovich missed out on was the opportunity to take ex-hooker Lula and Stephanie across the country on a Thelma-and-Louise like adventure. I wonder if there were originally inclinations to do so and she stopped due to length or other factors. Lula is a colorful character for sure and at times she’s a character I have the most trouble with. This is why the other reason I think Lula might have been sent off on her own instead of with Stephanie was to get her out of the picture for a while and give Stephanie a chance to breathe.
All of the books in the Stephanie Plum series are what I call “fun fluff.” They make great reading when I really don’t want to have to think too hard and are a lot of fun. There are many parts that are completely out of the realm of believability, so do not approach these books ready to pick them apart or you won’t enjoy them at all. Although I think Evanovich does a fine job filling in the background of the characters and you could probably pick up the series here, I would ask why would you want to? It’s much more fun to read them from the beginning.
To The Nines brings Stephanie back into form and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
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