Tag Archives: Stephanie Plum

Smokin’ Seventeen: Sizzle or Fizzle?

Janet Evanovich’s seventeenth Stephanie Plum caper – Smokin’ Seventeen – is not currently on the New York Times bestseller list.  Not in print hardback or e-reader.  But it’s #34 on Amazon’s top 100 list of mysteries and thrillers with  an average Amazon 3-star rating.

I can relate  to the middle-of-the-road reviews.  As I said before (in last year’s review of the sixteenth Plum book), it was Janet Evanovich’s breezy mix of fun and mayhem that led me to think “Hey, maybe I can write a mystery!”  She’s got a winning formula that can’t be replicated, except by her.  And that’s a good thing.  And maybe a bad thing.  Because while her latest Stephanie Plum adventure has all her great, compelling and quirky characters that we’ve come to know so well… we’ve come to know them.  So well.

One for the Money came out in 1994.  Stephanie’s been dithering between Morelli and Ranger for 17 years, and she is showing no signs of making any kind of a choice.   Ranger’s still hot.  Morelli’s still hot.  Stephanie’s still hot.  Grandma Mazur’s still feisty.  Lula’s still a ho at heart.  Stiva’s is still the place to go for corpses and cookies.  You get the picture.

Still, if you’re looking for a cotton candy read – go for it!  It may be a formula, but it’s a fun formula.  One hint:  Try not to think about the “extra character” rule. You know, the one that says that if there’s no good reason for this person to be in the book, he’s probably the bad guy.  Awk!  I gave it away.

Stephanie Plum strikes again.

It’s been sixteen years since Stephanie Plum first hit the scene, and this not-so-effective, but cute and acerbic bail bonds-woman has not aged a bit.  One for the Money came out in 1994… and Sizzling Sixteen is this year’s installment in the series penned by Janet Evanovich.

Self-revelatory statement:  It was the Stephanie Plum series that convinced me that I could write a funny mystery.  They’re fun, they’re lightweight, people get killed but you don’t really care, Stephanie’s in danger but you know that she’ll either get herself out or get rescued by Joe Morelli or Ranger.  They’re easy to read and (I thought) easy to write.  And although I have succeeded in writing a funny mystery and am in the midst of another one in the series that is also getting yucks, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.  In the meantime, today’s NYT says that Janet Evanovich made $16 million with her writing in the last year.   I made $50.  Sigh.

At any rate, Plum fans will enjoy this one.  It has the usual romantic entanglements – cop Joe Morelli is the love of her life, and extra-dangerous bounty hunter Ranger is the guy who tempts her from the straight and narrow. Grandma Mazur is still a hoot, Stiva’s is still the place to go for a good funeral, Lula is the chicken-eating ho with a zest for life and an itchy trigger finger.  Rex the hamster munches apples when Steph’s feeling maternal.  It may be a formula book, but it’s a formula Evanovich knows how to work to perfection.

Downside?  Stephanie’s been around the block a few too many times.  There’s never a meaningful new character.  Never any emotional engagement.  The hilarious hi-jinks in the Burg aren’t memorable.  I know that Sizzling Sixteen‘s plot revolves around the rescue of Stephanie’s cousin Vinny, who’s been kidnapped and held for ransom until the gang manages to pay off his $1.3 million debt.  But that’s because I finished it today.  Can I remember anything about the other 15 books?  Nope.  Do I care?  Nope.

That’s because the Stephanie Plum Series is the literary equivalent of a summer movie.  It’s a fun way to spend a few hours.  Drink lemonade.  Laugh out loud. Evanovich has a deft approach to sexual tension, which is a plus.  You don’t need to remember these books.  That’s why there’s a number in the title.  So that if you missed #12 (Twelve Sharp) you can get it from the library and head for the back porch.

Recommended reading?  Sure.  Be sure to check out page 132, where Stephanie notices the “shears” hanging in the windows.  If you envision, as I did, a gardening implement, you’ll get an extra laugh out of the book.  Totally worth it.

Erotica… or am I a prude?

OK, so one of my writing group members starts her novel-in-progress – a police procedural – with a sex scene that’s very much of the raven-tresses-heaving-bosoms-rock-hard-manhood variety.  We discussed this in our meeting… and my take was that people who are looking for a police procedural will put the book down because it opens with that scene and that people who want a book that includes that kind of scene will be disappointed when chapter 2 comes and all of a sudden we’re dealing with cops in the precinct house.

Post-meeting, she sent a couple of links to web sites that teach you how to write love scenes.  Suite 101 has a section called Writing Erotica that explained the difference between erotica and pornography.  It also included helpful examples of words to use…including the following:   coarse, decadent, furtive, hunger, innocent, lubricate, mesmerized, organ, pacify, scorching, secluded, shuddered, strip, tantalize, tempt, throbbing, whisper, writhe, and yearn.

So here goes:  His coarse, decadent hunger for the innocent was furtive, yet scorching, as her whisper tempted, even tantalized him, with a yearning that made him writhe and his organ throb.  To pacify him, she lured him to a secluded place where he shuddered, mesmerized, as she stripped.

Dang.  Can’t fit in “lubricate.”

The other link was to a site called enotalone, where there’s an article about erotic talk.  Not for writers, this is actually advice on how to have a more satisfying romantic life by spicing it up conversationally.  (If I ever said, “Honey, your lips taste so good to me,” my husband would stop mid-smooch to look at me, inquiringly, as in “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”)

My own view is that character-driven romance in a mystery novel – particularly one with a female protagonist – adds a human dimension to the characters and can be a plus if it’s in keeping with the whole gestalt of it.  Think of how much fun Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum has with cop-boyfriend Morelli and dangerous bad boy Ranger.  Stephanie has an irreverent attitude and her sex life’s irreverent, too.   Oral sex may be had and talked about, but somehow it’s all in keeping with the story.   On the other hand, there’s not much hanky-panky for Cabot Cove’s Jessica Fletcher… the very thought’s a little disconcerting!   And when I read Lawrence Block’s Small Town, it’s so full of various kinky characters and a wide variety of sexual hijinks that I felt like I was getting maybe a little too much insight into the way the author’s mind works.

I guess that’s what it comes down to.  When people shape a story, they shape the story they want to read.  And when they shape a love scene/sex scene/romantic encounter… they’re using their own perspective to decide what makes it interesting.  And for “interesting,” read “sexy.”   When someone writes about illicit sex between nameless people with perfect bodies, it doesn’t do it for me.  And I’m a little bit embarrassed that it does it for them.

Still, it sells.  So who am I to say?