There was a time when I got my hands on the first Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich that I couldn’t wait for more. I burned through a number of the books in the series that summer and never got tired of them. I could pin my apathy about Trenton, NJ resident Stephanie Plum on that, but I eagerly anticipated every novel since then and even enjoyed the “between the numbers” books immensely.
So why, despite the fact that I ran out and purchased Fearless Fourteen in hardcover last summer did it take three tries for me to finally finish it to write this review? Have the tales of Stephanie Plum, lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter just become tired? Or is it just that the material is becoming too far-fetched as it reaches to be something different from novel to novel?
My guess would be the latter. I even liked the last between the numbers novel, Plum Lucky. However, Fearless Fourteen just wasn’t the kind of book I started reading and wanted to burn through in a few days.
The book starts out compelling enough. Stephanie gets a new bounty hunter assignment from her cousin the bail bondsman. This one happens to involve a relative of her boyfriend Joe Morelli – his “cousin” Loretta. When Stephanie arrives to take her in, she gets roped into caring for Loretta’s son, Mario better known by his gamer name, Zook. Oh, and Loretta’s crazy brother Dom seems to think that Joe is really Zook’s father. With this idea planted in her head, Stephanie’s mind goes on some wild tangents.
Loretta’s case isn’t all cut and dried and she turns up missing. As Stephanie is trying to unravel this mystery and get out of the babysitting assignment, Ranger calls on her. He’s her mentor and sometimes lover, and any appearance by him serves to ratchet up the sexual tension. It seems that his security company, Rangeman, has gotten roped into handling security for a local appearance by aging superstar Brenda, who seems to be something of a second-rate Madonna.
That would seem to be enough to build on, but Evanovich crams what seems to be an endless sea of tangents into this 300+ page novel. Lula, the ex-hooker who now works for Stephanie’s cousin and is her usual partner in the misadventures manages to become engaged to Tank and turns into a bridezilla with a very reluctant groom. Stephanie’s eccentric Grandma Mazur who lives with Stephanie’s parents gets involved with Zook’s online game and ends up donning Goth-like clothing. Seems she’s turning into an expert gamer. There are appearances by Sally Sweet and Mooner as well as Bob the dog.
If you have no clue who I am talking about, then this book is not the place to start learning about the wild and crazy world of Stephanie Plum. I’m not even sure Fearless Fourteen is good enough for fans of the series. There’s too much going on in the story for one. Evanovich tells the story in the first person from Stephanie’s perspective which means a lot of concentration on descriptions of food and clothing. It’s all the stuff I’ve come to expect from a Stephanie Plum novel.
Perhaps that’s the problem.
At the end of Fearless Fourteen, I didn’t feel like anything had really happened. All the characters were still pretty much the same as they always were. There were no advances made or growth. There was no inching toward Stephanie deciding between her two paramours, Morelli or Ranger. I know Morelli has a tough time with Stephanie’s shenanigans, but he’s becoming even more of the caricature of an ineffectual detective as his character is more worried about inconsequential things than the body in his basement.
Much of what I’ve loved about previous books just seems tired and old. What is new and different seems too far-fetched to be believable, and we’re talking about someone who has had adventures with some pretty far-out characters before. Thankfully, we’re not treated to a visit by Stephanie’s sister and her family, but I suspect there was so much going on already that there was no place for them.
Fearless Fourteen is definitely not the end of Stephanie Plum. Janet Evanovich has stated she’s contracted through two more books, at least, plus she’s having too much fun writing them. I hope she can change the tone from Fearless Fourteen. It’s the first book in the series I’ve had to force myself to finish, and I don’t want to think of Stephanie Plum fading the way a television series does that’s been on for too long. If you’ve never read a Stephanie Plum book, don’t start here. If you’re invested in the series, don’t worry about skipping this one. You won’t really be missing anything.
Previous book in the series (link): Plum Lucky
Next book in the series (link): Plum Spooky