by velocibadgergirl

Monday, July 13, 2009

I wish I knew how to quit you

(cross-posted from my regular blog)

I have been a fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series for years and years. The books can be sexy, entertaining, scary, and sidesplittingly funny when Evanovich is on, and for many years she produced hit after hit with a rare miss or two that I can recall. But lately, things just haven't been working for me. I do mostly enjoy the "between-the-numbers" books, even though on its face the premise of superhero-like Unmentionables is a little silly. In fact, it may be that silliness that keeps the holiday-themed books fun. In the early days of the Plum books, they were fun because you never knew what to expect. Now, as I told my friend the bibliophile one day when we were talking about the Plum books, I feel like Evanovich is almost trapped by her fan base. She can't play around with the characters as freely as she once did, because so many people are SO invested in them. She can still play around with the holiday books, because by definition she is outside the strict boundaries of the normal Plum universe.

I said in an email to the bibliophile, I also see a problem in that the numbered books always follow the same formula -- a bad guy or main case is introduced, Stephanie decides to track down fugitive, has some slapstick moments, has sex with someone, and then eventually catches the fugitive. There's only so many ways you can tell that story before it starts to get old. After I read Fearless Fourteen, I found myself thinking about giving up on the series. I honestly can't even remember why I was so disappointed, that's how bland it was. But then the new book, Finger Lickin' Fifteen, appeared on my library hold list, and I told myself I might as well give the series one more try. Happily, FL15 was much more enjoyable than its immediate predecessor, enough so that when the inevitable #16 comes out, I'll probably read it, too. Reading it also helped me refine my difficulty, I suppose, as it brought into focus the things about the series that just don't work for me. There are really only two big issues.

First, there's the apparent fact that in all her prior fourteen (or eighteen) books of bounty hunting, Stephanie has really not learned very much. I'm okay with her not carrying a gun, and I could buy it if she had a quirk where she constantly forgot her taser. Or, I could deal with that stuff if that were the only things that hadn't changed since the early books. But she still handcuffs people and then has to watch them run off. She still lets cornered bounties go to the bathroom before running them down to the police station, only to have them slip out the window and escape (that happens twice in book 15). She still takes Lula with her on jobs, and Lula still freaks out and knocks Stephanie down in a spazzy moment, allowing the target to escape. Now, I realize that Evanovich has chosen to follow a very loose progression of time, and I've heard that's she's stated on record that she's not going to move ahead years in time. I'm okay with that, especially since it means we probably won't have to suffer through the age-related death of Grandma Mazur (or Rex the hamster), or Morelli's retirement. But really, even if the span from the beginning of one book to the next was only a month (unlikely), that would mean she's been a bounty hunter for 15 months. And she's still letting people escape out bathroom windows while she stands around waiting for them to come back?

Secondly, I feel like character development has pretty much stalled out. Most of the minor recurring characters have been dropped entirely (Valerie the sister, Moon Man the stoner and occasional bounty, Sally Sweet the drag queen). The main characters really haven't changed much in several books, and Morelli barely made an appearance in book 14. Again, I have to wonder if the huge fan base and associated expectations are trapping Evanovich. It would be great to see Morelli and Ranger and especially Stephanie continue to change and evolve, but how would fans react if their old favorites suddenly developed along new storylines? I gotta say, I doubt I'm the only fan who would be happy to see some new direction.

How about you guys? Any Stephanie Plum fans out there? How do you feel about the books lately?



Anonymous Sock said...

I'm a Ranger fan, so I'm biased. But I'm sick to death of Stephanie and Morelli playing house, breaking up over peanut butter, never resolving anything and then hopping into bed beacuse hey, she has to sleep with SOMEONE, and sleeping with Ranger (in Evanovich's words) would make her a "slut". The direction the triangle is going right now holds no interest for me, since the way I see it, there's no happy ending for anyone there.

I'm also with you that Stephanie not getting better at bounty hunting has become stupid and ridiculous. It's like she's moving backwards and everyone else has to become more stupid so she looks halfway adequate at her job. The earlier books featured skips who offered a bit of a threat - murderers, kidnappers, theives, rapists, arsonists. Now she's having to take in old people and flashers, and she can't even do that. Both Morelli and Ranger seem to have had some IQ points shaved off them, too. Stephanie keeps complaining about her life and the fact that she's stagnated, yet does nothing to change it. It's getting old, and the two men in her life not getting fed up with her is geting old, too. Eventually, something HAS to happen.... but it never does.

But my main complaint is the writing. I think it's obvious to anyone who reads the books back to back that Evanovich is as bored with the series as many of her readers are. The intent isn't there. It's like she's writing by numbers, with no passion or concern over plausibility or continuity. And it annoys the crap out of me every time she recites previous scenes, almost word for word, from other books, only to make a major mistake later on (like Ranger having brown hair or Stephanie's mother's name changing throughout the book). If she can copy and paste complete scenes, why can't she remember the other things, too?

12:09 PM  
Blogger Cara Powers said...

I'm with you guys. Check out my mini-review at Ooh . . . Books!

11:06 AM  

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