Bubbles In Trouble
by Sarah Strohmeyer, contemporary (2002)
Headline, £10.99, ISBN 0-7472-6994-7

If you, like me, reread Janet Evanovich's One For The Money and then weep because her latest Stephanie Plum books are just plain wastes of time (that's putting it kindly), do give Bubbles Yablonsky a try. If Bubbles In Trouble (which follows Bubbles Unbound) is any indication of the direction the author is heading, the author is slowly shedding her Janet Evanovich aspirations and working her way towards creating an intrepid and actually intelligent heroine who doesn't solve her cases by luck.

Also, unlike Stephanie Plum who just keeps whining crap that she is a good Trenton gal so she doesn't tell lies or have sex blah blah blah, Bubbles is a naughty hairdresser turned Nancy Drew with big hair that isn't afraid to have fun. She isn't afraid to give the smackdown to her ex, and she doesn't do stupid things, only silly and funny things (there's a difference, yes).

Also, this book wisely keeps the dotty old people to the background and there is actually a decent mystery here. And yes, no Villain With A Gun Giving Long Expositions. The author has come a long way since her debut which are guilty of all the sins above and more.

Bubbles isn't a happy woman. She awakes with a bad hangover and recoils when she realizes that she has been dreaming of Steve Stiletto, her photographer McGyver hunk that she has a crush on from the previous book, and the real guy sleeping beside her is her ex. Eeeuw. Good thing they didn't do the deed, or she'll be really sick.

Ohmigod, she is late for her friend Janice's wedding (she's the maid -of-honor)! As she rushes for the big event, she remembers how she got really drunk during the bachelorette party the night before and got onto the stage and did a really bad rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Born Free. When Janice doesn't show up, she wonders uneasily if her singing about leaving a guy because the gal can't commit the night before has anything to do with the MIA bride-to-be.

When she discovers the dead body of the bride's uncle and the bride nowhere to be found, that's when things really heat up. Janice turns out be a lapsed Amish, so Bubbles takes off to Whoopee, Pennsylvania, an idyllic Amish settlement located between Intercourse and Heaven (yes, you have to get through Whoopee to go from Intercourse to Heaven). One thing leads to another, and her mother and companion tag along, and later, Bubbles' teenaged daughter and her dubious boyfriend too. And of course, Stiletto is always nearby.

Anyone up for Amish mafia? Amish drug dealers? Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds, in fact, it's actually funny how the Amish keeps getting underestimated by Bubbles and company. They are never as simple as they seem to be. Bubbles, a loud, brassy hairdresser who can't live without make-up and is allergic to cotton, is having an excruciating time posing as an Amishwoman from Ohio. The scene where she gets into her car, takes a long drag from her ciggie (yeah, yeah, she is supposed to have quit, whatever), and blasts rock music at full volume while still in her Amish outfit, much to the horror of the people who see her driving by, is just priceless.

I love Bubbles. She is not stupid, she, in fact, actively searches for clues and does her research instead of bungling around like you-know-who from Trenton. She can fend off attackers instead of shrieking because she has forgotten a gun. Her wit is proactive in nature - she delivers them, she makes them, and she enjoys them. Bubbles' in charge, baby, and yeah, I like that!

Even better is how the secondary characters have a role other than to waste space and do the stupids. The mother and her companion actually are useful at places, and when they are being dotty, they aren't actually walking caricatures like some old biddies in Trenton that I could name. Likewise, the level-headed daughter Jane is a pleasure.

And I will always have a soft spot for a deluded junkie named Nimrod (it's a name from the Bible, and yeah, his parents have ruined his life, he will tell you), who in a perfect world will meet Ms Evanovich's Mooner and Dougie Kruper and they will all live a fabulously cracked-up (literally) happily ever after.

No, I can't predict the bad guy - I have my suspicions, but the author throws in some nice red herring plot twists to derail my suspicions, and I love how Bubbles have to do sleuthing work instead of just having the bad guy hand everything to her while holding her off at gunpoint.

In the end, this book is fabulous. Bubbles is colorful, brassy, but she is smart and sassy too. The secondary characters are amusing and they crack get lines without becoming superfluous, and the pace is just perfect to keep me turning the pages to the early hours of the morning. What are Gorgon hair and red-rimmed eyes compared to fun, fun, fun, right? I have a great time watching Bubbles wreck havoc in Amish country, a hairdresser in Whoopee style, and yes, I'm so 10 years old but whenever the Whoopee Police shows up, I lose it and start cracking up like a silly loon.

Bubbles Strohmeyer, making Whoopee fun. If you're jaded with Stephanie Plum and yearn for something mystery-lite and humor-heavy without the overkill of slapstick buffoonery like the sorry state of the recent Stephanie Plum books, let Bubbles Yablonski be your guiding light, people. I'm putting this book beside One For The Money to Three To Get Deadly on my prized bookshelf collection, and if the author keeps this up, I'll be glad to make space for more of her books in the future. Stephanie who? I'm with Yablonski now, thanks for asking.

Rating: 92

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