Four to Score

High Five

Hot Six

The Rocky Road to Romance

Seven Up

Visions of Sugar Plums

Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich
(St. Martin’s, $26.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-30626-1
Devoted readers of the Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series know that there are several recurring elements sure to be in every installment.

  • Stephanie’s car will be blown up. (How does this woman get insurance?)
  • Stephanie will be split romantic-interest-wise between cop Joe Morelli and the enigmatic Ranger.
  • Stephanie and Lula will collaborate on bringing in a FTA (failure to appear) with calamitous consequences.
  • Stephanie and Lula will eat their way through the antithesis to the USDA food pyramid.
  • Stephanie’s family will add a whole new dimension to the concept of dysfunctional.
  • Grandma will want to attend a funeral for the social aspects.
  • Trenton, New Jersey, will undergo further urban renewal as real estate burns, explodes, or collapses. (At the current rate by the time the series hits two dozen, Trenton will be charred rubble.)

Eleven On Top has all of these and more more more. More car bombings, more wavering between Joe and Ranger, more Keystone Kops chases, more bad food choices, more reasons to be thankful for your own batty relations, more Trenton institutions run amok.

“Oh, good,” you’re thinking, “I love all that wacky stuff – the wackier the better. But what about the plot?”

Plot? There’s supposed to be a plot in here?

Well, I guess there’s something of a plot in here somewhere, but it’s easy to overlook it with everything else that’s going on.

After ten books (eleven if you include the Christmas-theme novella) where she’s worked for her slimy cousin Vinnie as a bounty hunter, Stephanie decides that being a bond enforcement agent is too dangerous and sets out to find a new job. She’s looking for something ordinary, not requiring any special skills, something low-key and safe. Her jobs at a dry-cleaning establishment and a fast-food joint end in disaster. (With Stephanie the word “disaster” is meant in the catastrophic sense.)

Someone is leaving her threatening messages and making attempts on her life. These attempts have an impact on other’s lives as well as Stephanie’s – Joe Morelli ends up with a broken leg. Finally Ranger gives Stephanie an office job to keep her safe, and even Joe thinks that’s a good idea. Several small businessmen have disappeared from Trenton. Stephanie conducts computer research into their backgrounds trying to find a common thread.

Meanwhile, Valerie, Stephanie’s sister, is about to be married, but as might be expected in the Plum family, things aren’t going smoothly. Their mother wants Stephanie to play the cello before the ceremony. Cello? Does Stephanie play the cello? Well, no.

So you see that things are fairly normal in this eleventh Stephanie Plum book – laugh out loud funny, off the wall, and – thank heavens – absolutely impossible in the real world.

By the way, if you’re wondering if Stephanie finally figures out whether it’s going to be Joe or Ranger, you don’t really expect her to make such a tough decision yet, do you? It’s only the eleventh book after all. (Personally, I’m rooting for Ranger.) But we do learn at long last why Ranger is commitment-averse. Sort of.

That’s why Stephanie Plum fans keep coming back for more as the numbers keep adding up. If you’re looking for gritty realism and deep philosophical implications, you won’t find them here. But if a few hours of laughter strike you as just the ticket, you’ve come to the right place.

--Lesley Dunlap

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