Bubbles Unbound
by Sarah Strohmeyer, contemporary (2002)
Headline, 5.99, ISBN 0-7472-6728-6


"In the fabulous tradition of Janet Evanovich", the cover trumpets. Yes, this means a female investigator of crimes with horrendous fashion sense, dotty old people living on daytime TV and Geritol, and the obligatory hunk drool factor.

But when it's not trying too hard to be a Janet Evanovich book, it's not too bad, really.

Bubbles Yablonsky (don't try too hard and bust a ribcage on my effort, Ms Strohmeyer) is a hairdresser of, uh, maybe slightly around average intelligence. Still, as part of her divorce settlement where her husband Dan will pay her college fees, she decides to take up as many college classes as she can find time for. She flunks every one of them, and now it's either journalism or taxidermy.

Well, I eventually found out what journalism was, and I'm pleased to say I was a natural. Because when you combine all that asking, snooping, investigating, not to mention the who, what, where, when and why stuff that reporting requires, it comes down to one word.

Gossip.

And gossip is how a neighborhood hairdresser like me earns her bread and butter. After years and years in the beauty biz, my sympathetic ear was superbly tuned for human tragedy.

It's not smooth sailing. Bubbles' debut involves covering the attempted suicide of her old Physics teacher, only she accidentally, uh, maybe pushed him a little down the bridge after he has decided not to jump? The photographer guy with her, a Mel Gibson lookalike called Steve Stiletto, is not amused.

Later, they stumble upon a drunk driver hit-and-run, and while there is a dead body, the drunk driver disappears soon after. Worse, the driver is Merry Metzger, whose husband is the Godfather figure that owns the city and the cops. Bubbles naively publishes her "exclusive", however, and her world soon comes crashing down around her as everyone from her (now ex-)newspaper office to her ex-husband to the cops to trigger-happy thugs are now out of her blood. Still, her hair-color chameleon daughter Jane, her loony mother, and a bunch of senior citizens will stand by her.

Now all Bubbles need to do is to track down Merry and find out whether this mess is related to a murder that took place ages ago in town.

Steve appears towards the end after a long absence for the obligatory trophy-for-Bubbles thing. Don't expect Joe Morelli, people - Steve isn't that important in this story. Maybe in the sequel.

I don't care for the dotty old people antics that take up space more than they further the plot. How many aspiring Janet Evanovichs have done that thing to death already? But Bubbles is an intelligent klutz whom everybody underestimates. She really has the brainpower at the most unexpected moments, so it's not a pure celebration of ignorance Ms Strohmeyer is aiming at here.

While Bubbles Undone is witty, frothy, and fun, it is derailed somewhat when the plot resolution starts to become nothing more than a series of people holding Bubbles at gunpoint as they blab all about their heinous plans. Exposition Villains are so not cool, if I may say so, and are dead giveaway signs of an ineptly written mystery. And there's just too many coincidences, even for a story that takes place in an small, inbreeding-type-of-small, town.

Still, not bad. It's fine for an afternoon of fine humor and a klutzy but feitsy heroine saving the day and getting her man. Never mind that this book is conceived on Janet Evanovich's kitchen table (eeeuw, I don't mean that kind of conceived, people, tsk tsk!), maybe the author would find her own voice and doesn't try too hard to emulate Ms Evanovich in the future.

Rating: 82


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