Monday, July 13, 2009

I wish I knew how to quit you

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?

Reading:  Red by Ted Dekker

Playing:  Bringing Down the Horse by the Wallflowers


  1. I stalled out after book 7. I also bailed on Patricia Cornwells last few books, and the Kinsey Milhone series too. I tend to stop reading as soon as I think an author has become formulaic. That being said, I really did enjoy Evanovich, The gramdmother was literally laugh out loud, which is rare for me to find in a book.

  2. Can't say I've ever read any Plum novels, but I kinda understand your feelings. I'm a huge fan of Mercedes Lackey's "Heralds of Valdemar" novels, but the last 5 or so that she wrote of them (she seems to have stopped writing actual novels for that series by now) just felt...distracted. Like the fact that they became popular took away *her* joy in writing them. They felt like she was in a hurry to just get something, anything out, no matter if it was anywhere near as good as the earlier stuff or not.
    I like the feeling that the story exists without us or the author, and it's just through chance that the author found out about it, and is telling us so we can share in the fun. You know, instead of the feeling "crap, I gotta write something, ANYthing, or my publisher will kick my ass and my house will be repo'd." I would rather an author just not write anything for another year or 2 if they don't have a good idea of the story right now. I prefer quality over quantity.

    ok, that's enough ranting for right now. :P

  3. I have been feeling the same way about the Plum series. I've bought through number 13 but haven't even read number 10 yet.
    Thanks for the heads up about the interstitial titles -- I hadn't bothered to read the Xmas books but now I'll give them a try, as well as the latest numbered title. If you've read Evanovich's website, it is clear that her books are a family industry and, sadly, they have started to show their assembly line roots.

  4. Yeah, I pretty much agree with what you've said. I still put the main series on hold in the library, but I haven't read the holiday ones. I kind of think of the series as a sit-com in book format, just zany episodes in the lives of kinda one-dimensional characters. That said, it doesn't mean I don't enjoy them, they're immensely fun. But for character growth throughout a series, I'm more likely to be looking at Ian Rankin's John Rebus, Elizabeth George's Barbara Havers/Thomas Lynley, or P.D. James' Adam Dalgliesh/Kate Miskin.

  5. Anonymous9:55 PM

    Oh, I am SO with you on this one. Finished 15 a week ago and remember thinking "Huh... well, that was familiar...". While I agree that it was better than 14, I've been feeling dissatisfied for the past 2 or 3 books now. Grandma Mazur and Lula are still the funniest things going... but it feels like Evanovich is just phoning it in. The in-between books with Diesel are slightly more entertaining but still feel very same-old, same-old. I long for the early days just discovering her and reading up books 1 through 8 without even taking a breath... laughing out loud on the subway too many times to count. I think she needs to take the family enterprise "offline" for a bit and re-group and come back with something a bit fresh. Whew! Thanks for letting me get that off my chest! :-)

  6. I've had #1 of this series on my 'To read' pile for months. I've just finished a book, so you've inspired me to give this one a go.

  7. Chris, you'll have to let me know what you think! :) I really enjoyed the early books in the series!