High Five
by Janet Evanovich, contemporary (2000)
Pan, 5.99, ISBN 0-330-37123-1


I love England. That country gives me Jeremy Northam, Jude Law, and they publish Janet Evanovich in paperback months ahead of USA. And the packaging is always right too - unlike the boring US covers, the UK covers always reflect the zaniness of the story inside. High Five is darned fun. It's the weakest Stephanie Plum adventure so far, but it lacks the mean-spirited coarseness of Four To Score and the humor is still in tip-top shape. A lousy Stephanie Plum book is still one of the best books out there.

This time, Stephanie's Uncle Fred has gone missing during a trip to the local garbage collection company RGC. Uncle Fred, cheapest bozo and deluded adulterer, is in a long dispute with RGC over - get this - two bucks. And Fred's wife Mabel discovers gruesome photos of dismembered body parts of a woman in Fred's desk drawer. What on earth is a man in his seventies doing with these photos in his drawer?

Things get worse. Stephanie is still living in poverty and decides to take up a part time job helping Ranger in "interior decorating" (don't ask). Ranger gives her the chillies when he makes a move on her and gifts her with expensive cars. Which makes Steph torn between hunky bad cop Joe and hunky bad bounty hunter Ranger. If only we women are so lucky.

There's also a midget, sorry, little person running around in here, Grandma Mazur develops a fetish for photographing dead people, an exhibitionist fifteen-year old sheikh wags his Mr Happy in Steph's Buick, and Steph develops a chronic case of exploding cars - her cars keep going up in flames.

And the pace is so frenetic and kinetic that my brain just tunes out and go on auto-pilot reading. It's fun, it's a riot - Ms Evanovich just keeps those snappy one-liners coming! - but unlike the early Plum stories, High Five is surprisingly lightweight. Now, Steph actually does more eating, the carbohydrate fan she is, than doing anything to solve Uncle Fred's case. In face, in High Five, the Uncle Fred case disappears almost completely in the middle of the book, so caught up is Steph in her love life blues, her need for chocolates, and up to six - six! - "side jobs" to get money. And it is only in the end does Steph closes the case, only after the villain finds Steph and not the other way around.

And oh yes, the Villain Tells All syndrome. What is this? But at least, unlike Jayne Ann Krentz, Ms Evanovich makes it clear that her stories are meant to be taken with a light heart, so that's okay too. A bad guy who asks for an aspirin while waving a gun at his victims is still okay.

High Five lacks focus, the plot could be tighter, and really, the running joke that Steph can never have a gun at hand is really getting old. Come on, even a fool would know enough to buy a bazooka and place it in her pants after a year or so getting shot at. Steph still forgets and loses hers all the time. While I appreciate Steph not becoming a Superwoman - now that will be boring - the fact that after five books and she still hasn't progressed much beyond the drawing room doesn't reflect much on her intelligence. And when a woman is threatened by a psycho, she tells someone. Steph keeps it to herself - now that's stupid. Even more stupid is her excuse - she doesn't want the bad guy's death on her conscience. Stupid.

Yes, I'm somewhat disappointed with High Five. Even the teaser ending just adds to my disappointment. Steph is in the danger of turning into a clueless ditz. Oh dear.

But you know what? I have a great time laughing, and for that alone, this book goes to my keeper shelf. Sometimes a laugh is good enough an excuse, you know.

Rating: 85


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