Warning: All subsequent reviews for this series may contain spoilers for earlier novels in the series.
Many people who crave adventure and excitement eventually hit a place in their lives where they look around and consider that they need more stability; they’d like to lead a “normal” life, for lack of a better word. Some people just never get to that point and always live their lives sort of on the edge, driving the rest of us crazy.
Bounty hunter extraordinare Stephanie Plum has come to the moment when she’s looking around at her life and deciding it’s a bit too crazy. Sure, being a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds business sounded cool at first. Just bring these people who failed to show for their court date back to the police station and collect her reward. The only problem is the people she’s sent out to find usually don’t want to go. The result has been mayhem and mishaps for eleven novels.
In Eleven on Top, Stephanie calls it quit and tells Vinnie to take this job and shove it. The only problem is, what else can she do? She tries working at the button factory, as her mother’s always urging her to do. Nope, she doesn’t make it through the day. How about the dry cleaners? Nope, she ends up getting the matriarchal owner blown up. How about…
Wait a minute! Blown up? I thought she was leaving that life behind?
While Stephanie’s trying to walk away from the crazy life she’s led through the ten previous novels, that life is sucking her back in, just like Don Corleone and the mafia. She’s got a nutcase stalking her, who seems to be someone very familiar from one of her past adventures. He seems to be toying with her in general, but people are getting killed. It’s all somehow linked to the disappearance of four men in the greater Trenton, New Jersey area and it’s up to Stephanie to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Her love life is no better. She’s still waffling between the two men in her life. Joe Morelli is a local vice cop with who Stephanie shares a long and sordid history. Ranger is in “security” and seems to operate in the gray area between the criminals and the police. He’s been Stephanie’s mentor and her lover at one point, although the stability she now craves will most likely be found with Joe.
But Ranger offers her a job and Stephanie takes it. She sits at a computer most of the day tracking down information on people for him, and also for herself on the side as she tries to figure out exactly who is stalking her and why.
As with all of the Stephanie Plum books, this is written from her perspective and we see all that is happening the same way she does. We know her thoughts and emotions, but not those around her. It’s real easy for me as the reader to put myself in her shoes this way. This is a different scenario than many novels which tell a mystery from the third person; on the outside looking in at the whole situation. I knew what she knew and knew the clues she had. There’s only been a few times when she will say something like “I was sure this proved what I was thinking, but I had to wait and see…” Those moments are frustrating because I get descriptions of Bob the dog’s bowel movements but you’re holding back on me what going on in her mind in regard to unraveling the mystery.
On the whole, however, Eleven on Top is a terrific book. The pacing is great and Stephanie’s mishaps aren’t so far-fetched. Plus, she’s not making the same mistakes here, like forgetting to cuff a failure-to-appear she’s trying to apprehend. Nope, now she’s making new and different mistakes.
The crazy B-story here involves Stephanie’s sister’s upcoming wedding. The craziness in her family as the day looms close at hand reaches a peak with funny results, which also felt very appropriate, given the situation. If you’ve been following the story all along (and I’d recommend starting at book one, really, rather than jumping into the middle of this mess), then what happens just feels right and satisfying. Stephanie’s mother’s tippling is more pronounced which is something that’s really been developed for the character through the books. This results in her swearing off booze if Stephanie will swear off sugar, and that has interesting results, especially for poor Joe Morelli.
Ex-hooker Lula who’s been filing in Vinnie’s office is gravitating more toward Stephanie’s role which advances the character nicely. We don’t hear much from her wildly eccentric Grandma Mazur (whom I think Stephanie probably takes after). Sally Sweet, the transvestite wedding planner is here but also in a minor way.
Eleven on Top is one of the better-rounded novels in the series, probably because the focus is off Stephanie’s bounty-hunter exploits, allowing some of the tired themes to get a breath of fresh air. There’s no resolution at the end as to whether she will stay working for Ranger or go back to her bounty-hunter ways, so it creates a mild cliff-hanger to bring the audience back once again.
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