Fifth in a Series:

One For the Money

Two for the Dough

Three to Get Deadly

Four to Score

High Five by Janet Evanovich
(St. Martin's, $23.95, PG /R-language) ISBN 0-312-20303-9
"When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants."

Wanna bet money that line's destined to become a classic? I'd put it up there with other classic lines like "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," or "Food fight," or "You named your thing?!?" Those of you who need your Stephanie Plum fix, here it is. O.D. to your heart's content. It's been almost a year, and that's too long.

The gang is all here. Stephanie Plum is still Trenton's number one kick-ass bounty hunter. This time she's low on cash and takes Ranger up on some odd jobs, "marginally legal, mostly morally correct entrepreneurial activities." Cop Joe Morelli is sexy as ever, good humored and just as allergic to marriage. Ranger, still mysterious and just as sexy, has a bigger role. He makes a couple of subtle moves that send Stephanie's heart into overdrive. Lula and Vinnie are still working at the office, and Grandma Mazur is in top form. Lest I forget, Rex is still the best roommate around.

Janet Evanovich doesn't just give us one mystery. Oh, no we get to watch Stephanie go in several different directions, only to end up at the right spot. The disappearance of Uncle Fred is the first mystery to plague Stephanie. When she finds twenty-four photos in Fred's desk of an open garbage bag containing body parts, she's not so sure that Fred will be coming back anytime soon. Things turn strange when a man claiming to be Fred's bookie wants to help her find the old coot. Who ever heard of a bookie named Bunchy?

Uncle Fred was last seen on his way to complain about a garbage bill. Now employees of the garbage company are committing suicide or being killed. Does that tie in with Uncle Fred? Aha, a second mystery to solve.

Stephanie has bigger problems. Benito Ramirez, the nutcase boxer who tortured Lula in a previous book, is out on probation and has vowed to get Stephanie. And a great new character, Briggs, has just moved into Stephanie's apartment uninvited. Stephanie had to kick his door down to bring him in after he jumped bail. He's making lawsuit noises, so Stephanie's got to babysit him until his door is fixed. What makes Briggs so unique is that he's a "little person," maybe three feet tall. But he's got one of the biggest mouths, and his observations are outstanding.

What do I say about Ranger? He plays a bigger role here than ever, and perhaps his feelings about Stephanie aren't as platonic as we've been led to believe. And what about hers? Something's definitely up. After the black Porsche he's letting her drive is blown up, he doesn't even mind. In a sweet scene, he tells her that cars aren't important compared to people. Then he brings her a black beemer. The romance water may be muddier than ever.

Dear old Granny is a treasure. Granny's theory is that aliens beamed Uncle Fred up. Of course, after he's been gone for two weeks, she decides that the aliens dropped him in Afghanistan. And Granny and a stun gun? Get ready for some memorable mayhem.

Part of what makes this series so successful is the writing technique. Evanovich uses short sentences, with mostly dialog. It's an easy style of writing, comfortable and very readable. Another key to success is Stephanie, who's really Everywoman with an attitude. How can you resist a woman who wears guns, knives, pepper spray and a cell phone on her belt, yet admits to herself that if she spots the bad guy, she'd wet her pants and run screaming back into her apartment building?

This is the fifth Stephanie Plum novel in the series. Sure, you can pick up High Five without having read the other four and experience topnotch reading excitement. Still, I'd seriously question anyone's intelligence who didn't at least try to find the first four books and read them in order. I've gotten to know and like these characters and that background knowledge made my reading enjoyment that much better.

Reviewing a Janet Evanovich book can be hard. Oh, not the actual writing or even the analysis, but the high expectations. I know I can't screw up and give too much away. I thud my forehead on the desk and whine, "I'm not funny or clever. I'm not a witty writer. I'm not . . . Janet Evanovich." So I'll be Joe Friday and give you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Or is that just the facts? This book is great. I grinned. I laughed out loud. I had to put it down in places to take a breather, to lessen the tension. It's worth $23.95. Did I really say that?


--Linda Mowery

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