WHY I LOVE STEPHANIE PLUM
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Ordinarily, I would be ashamed to admit I'm a fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum detective series. After all, I'm a serious person. I read The New York Times, The New Yorker and Harper's. I write about politics and world events.
But everyone needs a laugh now and then, and Evanovich's detective novels offer not only suspense and realism, but hilarity and a frisson of sexual tension. Take that, Dick Francis, Sue Grafton and Archer Mayor!
Evanovich, who lives in the Dartmouth area of New Hampshire, has cleverly devised the perfect formula for a detective series aimed at - I'm certain of this - women. She has taken the romance novel - the all-out, rape-filled, lust-inspiring, Fabio-on-the cover-with-his-chest-exposed bodice-ripper, and combined it with the detective novel to create a series of nine books, each with a number in the title ("Seven Up," "Hard Eight") that combine crime, adventure and sexual heat.
Her heroine, Stephanie Plum, is not a detective. She's a young, juicy and almost fearless bail bondsman from Trenton, New Jersey. She's pure working class, and the books, told in her own voice, are replete with references to pizza, pineapple upside-down cake, the joys of shopping in malls, and hair care products. In Stephanie's huge handbag, which she frequently uses as a weapon, she carries lipstick, combs, hair spray, pepper spray and a stun gun. She hates real guns; she keeps hers at home in her cookie jar.
Stephanie comes with a wild menagerie of friends, family and lovers. There's her mother, for example, who tears her hair out at her daughter's shenanigans. "Why me," she says. "Why do I have a daughter that finds dead bodies? Emily Beeber's daughter never finds dead bodies. Joanne Malinowski's daughter never finds dead bodies. Why me?"
Then there's gun-loving Grandma Mazur, whose main social activities are funerals and watching pay-per-view porn on television because there's not enough action on the Weather Channel.
Grandpa Mazur is dead, and Evanovich finds lovely ways of reminding us that he is gone. Grandpa Mazur "took his bucket of quarters to the big poker slot machine in the sky," for example. Or, "Grandpa Mazur took his fat-clogged arteries to the all-you-can-eat buffet in the sky."
Stephanie's cousin, Vincent Plum, a known pervert, owns the bail bond company for which Stephanie works. Lula, a Glock-toting, plus-sized former prostitute with a fondness for spandex, works for Vinnie and frequently partners with Stephanie. In the newest book, "To the Nines," Lula goes on the Atkins Diet. She eats so much meat that she is convinced she is turning animal. "For the last couple days my teeth have been feeling funny," she says. "You know, like they're growing. Just these two ones in front."
Stephanie's love interests are two white-hot men with diametrically opposed jobs. Joe Morelli, who took Stephanie's virginity when she was in high school, is a cop. Ranger, who frequently bails Stephanie out of danger, is a self-described mercenary.
Stephanie has been to bed with both men, and the love scenes are steamy. But Evanovich approaches even sex with humor. "I was desperate," Stephanie says in "Seven Up." "I was starting to have romantic thoughts about my electric toothbrush."
And during an encounter between Stephanie and Morelli: "Morelli's eyes darkened and the hint of a grin tugged at his mouth. He brushed a fingertip along the back of my neck, and heat rushed through my stomach clear to my doodah."
When she's not thinking about her doodah, Stephanie is frequently being beaten, shot at, tied up or stun-gunned. "To the Nines" opens with an assignment to catch a fat man who has stripped down, covered himself with Vaseline - "extra-heavy in the cracks and crevices" - and challenged Stephanie and Lula to wrestle. Lula declines because he is "a dry cleaning bill waiting to happen." Stephanie goes at it with hilarious results.
Stephanie always gets her man, by the way, although the way is as twisted as an amusement park ride.
Evanovich has the same fine-tuned ear for the rhythms of daily New Jersey speech that earns the writers of the Sopranos so many awards, as well as a true gift for plotting. Her writing makes me jealous on several counts. First, she's created an award-winning, best-selling, crowd-pleasing series of novels and I haven't. And second, she's so damn entertaining that I just can't hate her.
So if you're in need of a laugh after watching the news some day, let me to recommend Stephanie Plum.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.