Hard Eight

Janet Evanovich

The eighth volume in a highly successful series, which has now reached number 24, I believe. So successful that the publishers have long since given up on covers with sexy girls and guns. See the cover of this one - they're slumming it, aren't they?

It all began with One For The Money, which described how sassy young Stephanie Plum, native of Trenton, New Jersey, fell into the role of bounty hunter, to chaotic and generally entertaining effect. Evanovich quickly set up a regular supporting cast including ex-hooker Lula, pervy boss Cousin Vinnie, her entire mad family, notably eccentric Granny Mazur, and, most importantly, the two men in her life with whom she maintains off-again on-again relationships, one-time bad boy cop Joe Morelli, and dangerously shady ex-military Ranger. They're all there in Hard Eight, which like all the previous volumes has one ongoing big mystery, alongside a couple of Failure To Attend bond cases for her to tackle.

The central story concerns a missing mother and child, which appears to be a standard child custody case at first, but is revealed to be connected to a seriously nasty crime boss. On the romantic front, she broke up with Morelli previous to this book. The way it's been written so far, the reader is led to think that even so, Morelli is the one for her in the long term. In the mean time, in Hard Eight, it's Ranger who finally, yes finally, after a full seven and a bit volumes of teasing, finally gets his end away with Stephanie. I won't insult your intelligence by discussing whether she solves the case by the end, or survives the threat from the sadistic crime boss. I mean, there are at least 16 more volumes of these adventures.

But will I personally read them? To be honest, I doubt it, for reasons I'll shortly go over. However, it's always possible that one day I'll have time on my hands - you know, of the airport or bland hotel variety - and another Janet Evanovich may well look like the best option for a cosy quick read. I like the way she works the Trenton (New Jersey) setting. The books are dialogue heavy, the pace keeps up, the comic entertainment is reliable and the characters are familiar and appealing. It's like sitting down to watch a repeat of a favourite sitcom, with a bag of crisps or crackers on one side and a beer on the other.

I did say 'repeat'. That's one of my problems with these books. By the fourth or fifth I realised that they were heavily reliant on a set formula. I wouldn't have carried on, but one of my American cousins picked up this hardback edition of what was then the latest Stephanie Plum book and gave it to me. I like reading books gifted by friends and family, it's kind of part of the bond. Anyway, I then felt obligated to read the books in between ie. numbers Six and Seven. And many years later, I have the time and inclination to read Hard Eight. Was I disappointed? Not exactly, these books aren't boring. But that sense of the Stephanie Plum time loop persists. I mean, the sense that nothing much is moving on, and that her life constantly goes back to Square One. But the Ranger thing? Oh come on, that was always going to happen at some point, and it's made clear that it's a casual thing, and she will go back to Morelli when things are right again.

I'm having a little trouble with the suspension of disbelief. I know that fans will now say that I'm missing the point, but here are a few of my problems with these books. First and foremost, how is Stephanie Plum making a living? In this book, she picks up precisely one minor FTA, for what must be a trivial fee. Secondly, how is she even alive? The only proper nutrition she gets through the entire story is (I assume) when she spends a few days at home. Also, she does next to no exercise. She goes out once for that purpose, but... well, let's say it doesn't work out. Along with that, how come is Rex still alive? I have a friend who has read further in the series, and she tells me Rex has yet to start spinning on the great wheel in the sky. Rex is a hamster. Why is she so indulged by her men? After all, she wouldn't achieve anything at all if she weren't regularly extracted from the mess she has usually created herself, if those helpful friends, meaning mostly Morelli or Ranger, weren't at her beck and call. She must have something special. Really special. I wouldn't mind, but I can't help feeling that in anything like the real world, even with her being so special, they'd have considered giving up by now, in the face of all the uselessness.

Oh, all of that is good fun. But there is another factor which puts me off from reading the next few books. She endures being stalked in this story, and I did pick up from somewhere that the next few books feature her being stalked as well. I'm not really interested in seeing her spending lots of time being a victim. Along with that general uselessness I was referring to, it's a little unenticing. I want to see some proactivity, some independent resourcefulness, and a decent level of achievement without excessive assistance from men, in female protagonists. I make no further comment on her sex life. Except something on the lines of 'Get a grip!' Oh and I don't mind about the cars. I think she totals three in Hard Eight, and that's fairly typical. And funny.


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