The best writing about classic themes can survive the passage of time. The works of Dickens, Poe, or Dostoyevsky will; even if your average high school junior finds them "stooped," last far longer than today's best-seller. Quick: what was the number one best-seller on this date in 2008?
On the other hand, nobody says writing has to be great or themes timeless to be entertaining. When it’s all said and done, sometimes we read to nourish the soul and sometimes our brains need a vacation. By now, we all know that Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series is what you read when your brain craves down time; and Finger Lickin' Fifteen is par for the course.
No one would ever confuse Stephanie Plum for "Dog the Bounty Hunter." Besides the obvious difference, Dog is apparently competent – Stephanie as bond enforcement agent is as believable as Bruce Springsteen for operatic tenor. While she has four skips to find this time (weenie-wagger, pyromaniac, dentist-threatener, and armed robber), Steph's actual concerns are different: one of the two men in her life, the mysterious Ranger, has enlisted her to help stop a string of robberies at Rangeman Security clients. Her other concern is that co-worker the ex-'ho Lula witnessed the murder of celebrity chef Stanley Chipotle by a cleaver-wielding giggler; and now that loony is stalking the BBBW in the too tight Spandex skirts.
While Lula and Grandma Mazur try to perfect their barbecue sauce recipe for an upcoming cook-off, where the killer will probably appear; Steph works night and day for Ranger – including sleeping on the oh! so sexy man's 500-thread count sheets. Since her on-again-off-again relationship with Joe Morelli is currently off, will Steph succumb to the strong, silent Ranger? And since neither Lula nor Grandma Mazur can cook, will the mismatched pair set the cook-off tent on fire, poison someone with their brisket, or blow up a car or two? Maybe all of the above?
You can count on Steph and her posse to save the day, capture the murderer, and get the weenie back in its owner's pants; but not before a handful of vehicles turn into piles of ash and a funeral home full of old ladies is scandalized – delighted, but scandalized. Stephanie Plum is on the job, and face it: by hook or by crook, Steph always gets her man. She's like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that way, if you cross the RCMP with an auto junkyard!
In case you didn't figure it out from the title, Finger Lickin' Fifteen is the fifteenth in the series featuring the intrepid bond agent from Trenton, New Jersey's "Burg.” Creator Janet Evanovich plows no new ground in Fifteen: she introduces no new characters (beyond the usual stable of bond skips), reprising the familiar folks, which includes Plum arch-nemesis Joyce Barnhardt (wearing more eye makeup than Tammy Faye). Given that Morelli is out of the picture, Bob the Dog is noticeably absent – though Bob's critical role source of tremendous gas emissions is ably filled by someone else.
So what, though? The Plum series has never been character-driven: it's literary slapstick with overlays of romance and sexual tension. If Steph were to marry Morelli in, say, Sixteen, there’d be zero audience for installment seventeen – half the squabbling on Plum fan boards is whether Ranger or Morelli is Steph's soulmate. So what if Evanovich has Steph going through cars like a teenager with Pop-Tarts? So what if the scenery looks familiar? Without taking the show on the road (like her trip to Vegas in To the Nines), there are only so many things going on in the average rust-belt city, and if some disaster has befallen the heroine before, perhaps it's a metaphor for how humdrum everyone's life is; even Stephanie Plum's. No, the Plum series is always about the endless string of catastrophes that befall the hapless Steph (and occasionally Lula) – and all about how our heroine manages to survive despite of them, especially with a little help from her friends.
What more do you want? Sheesh.