Eleven on Top

Four to Score

High Five

Hot Six

The Rocky Road to Romance

Seven Up

Visions of Sugar Plums

Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich
(HarperCollins, $26.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-059402-3
If you know and love Janet Evanovichís Stephanie Plum series, youíre likely to love her Barnaby series. Thereís not much difference between them. If you were to take the wacky characters, the cartoon-like bad guys, the madcap adventures, and the illogical stunts based in Trenton, New Jersey, move them south, and plunk them in the middle of NASCAR and racing, then youíd pretty much have Alexandra Barnaby (Barney), Sam Hooker, and the cast of supporting characters in the authorís newer series.

Barney is working as a spotter for NASCAR driver Sam Hooker. A graduate engineer, she is part of his crew, but on race day she observes the race and communicates information to him about the other drivers and track conditions. She and Sam were lovers (itís Sam who calls her Motor Mouth), but when he slept with another woman, she cut him off.

Barney is the only woman among the spotters at the last race of the season. Among the men is Jefferson Davis Warner, nicknamed Gobbles, who spots for another driver. When his driver is involved in an accident, Gobbles is visibly shaken.

Sam comes in second; the winner is the driver of car 69. Gobbles is upset that the owner of Huevo Motor Sports, which owns car 69, is at the track. He believes he saw a crew member of Stiller, Samís company, run down by a thug working for Ray Huevo. He thinks that Ray Huevo has pointed him out.

After the race, Barney gets a call on her cell phone from Gobbles. Heís sneaked inside the hauler (a truck that carries the race cars) and canít get out. He needs Barneyís and Samís help.

But the plot gets complicated when they get inside the hauler to rescue Gobbles where they find a dead body. And thatís just the first of their problems which involves breaking and entering, homicide, theft, destruction of property, physical assault, and a large St. Bernard named Beans.

Motor Mouth is the sequel to Metro Girl which introduced Barney and Sam, but itís not necessary to have read the first to know whatís going on in the second. Actually, itís sometimes difficult to tell exactly what is going on in the second. There is little if any resemblance between the standard cool operator hero/heroine of contemporary fiction and the characters in Motor Mouth. Insightful planning and intelligent strategy arenít their strongest qualities. It isnít very far from the truth to call these characters bunglers.

What Motor Mouth does have is the laugh-out-loud humor of a typical Janet Evanovich novel. Itís nearly impossible not to like the characters because theyíre good-hearted and well-meaning if not the brightest bulbs in the race track lights. (It canít be as difficult as Iíd believed to earn an engineering degree.) Hooker is a good match for her. Except for the sleeping around part. And why doesnít she insist on a blood test? (See prior comments on her intelligence.)

In other words, for maximum enjoyment you should read it for the laughs and fight the urge to yell at the characters, ďHow dumb can you be?Ē or ďCall the cops already!Ē Familiarity with the NASCAR culture isnít required. In fact, it might be a deterrent because itís hard to believe that NASCAR as presented in Motor Mouth bears much resemblance to the real thing. Nevertheless, whatever its failings, the bookís a hoot and sure to appeal to a wide audience.

--Lesley Dunlap

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