It was after I read this passage:
During the winter months, wind ripped up Hamilton Avenue, whining past plate-glass windows, banking trash against curbs and storefronts. During summer months, the air sat still and gauzy, leaden with humidity, saturated with hydrocarbons. It shimmered over hot cement and melted road tar. Cicadas buzzed, Dumpsters reeked, and a dusty haze hung in perpetuity over softball fields statewide. I figured it was all part of the great adventure of living in New Jersey.
that I turned to my sweetie and said, “this looks promising.”
She was glad to hear me say that, since she had recommended the book to me, and said something like, “The first ten books in the series are all really good. The next ones go downhill, but the fifteenth was the first one I really was disappointed with.” You can probably dispense with the rest of this write-up — that tells you all you need to know.
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich is the first of fifteen (and counting) stories of Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, and an interesting assortment of characters that surround her life. Stephanie does not wake up one morning saying “I think I’ll go be a bounty hunter and kick some ass.” Far from it. In fact, in this first installment Stephanie proves herself to be really bad at being a recovery agent. Ill-trained, ill-equipped, and unimposing of physique, she ends up with the job because she can’t find any other. Her cousin the bail bondsman doesn’t think she will succeed, but hasn’t got much to lose letting her try for a week.
Stephanie does have one advantage: She’s a local girl, and some of the kids she grew up with are still around, working as cops and storekeepers. It is this network that will allow her to survive.
Not all her friends are on the right side of the law. At the top of her list of people to apprehend: Joe Morelli. She hasn’t seen him since she hit him with her car years ago, in retaliation for his taking her virginity behind a deli counter and then never calling. You might say they have a history.
Stephanie is in way over her head, and if she were the stereotypical lone wolf hero type she would have been dead in two days. One man she tries to apprehend laughs at her, steals her stuff (including her brand-new gun), and slams his door in her face. There’s nothing she can do except call for help, and help comes. I imagine this is much more like what a real newbie bounty hunter would go through, no matter how badass they were.
What does she bring to the job that makes us care whether she succeeds or not? Well, she’s persistent, no doubt about that. And she’s courageous. She’s got grit. Moxy. A desperate need for cash. She’s willing to learn from her mistakes and it’s easy to imagine that one day she’ll be a kick-ass bounty hunter, if she lives long enough. (The release of the fourteenth novel in the series would indicate that she will live long enough.) I wonder if I’ll like her as much when she knows what she’s doing.
Meanwhile, Stephanie and Joe are driving each other crazy. She’s not good enough to capture him, but she’s persistent enough to cause him serious trouble. When she needs a car, and Joe’s is just sitting there going unused… well, what’s he going to do, call the police?
Joe is not Stephanie’s most serious problem, however; there’s a psychopathic boxer who likes to rape and torture women who has set his sights on her. He is very creepy and very scary and a real, believable threat to her life.
There are a lot of interesting characters (some of which are automobiles) in this book, and while they all have quirks, they are all believable. The reason for this is consistency – I never once thought, ‘Ramirez would never do that’. Well, actually there was one point where I thought exactly that, and in fact he hadn’t done it. Characters are consistent enough that behavioral changes are significant clues. It’s sad that we can’t take such basic craftsmanship for granted when we pick up a book to read, but let’s appreciate when it’s done well.
There’s an interesting quirk to the writing and I wonder if it’s intentional. Many times Stephanie comes home to her empty apartment (new extra deadbolt installed on the door) and we follow her through a series of mundane tasks — setting down her bag, putting away her keys, splashing water on her face or whatever. It’s the kind of thing that other books and screenplays use to slide us into the “She’s not alone!!!” moment. So trained have I been with this device that it’s more of a surprise now when she is alone. I was surprised several times in this story. Probably the author was just using these lulls for pacing, not realizing that she would be pushing my suspense button. It was pleasant all the same.
Naturally I have a couple of criticisms. The most serious is that the bad guy does the classic full-confession-before-I-kill-you-in-a-complicated-manner mistake, which really wasn’t necessary.
Overall I really enjoyed the language and the descriptions. The passage I quoted at the start uses some pretty high-falutin’ language but it reads gritty, which means the writer has mastered the language, rather than the other way around. There are lots of descriptions like this, where Evanovich finds just the right word to really put us in the scene. (OK, in the above I could quibble with shifting the scope of the description from a street to the entire state, but that’s the kind of thing you notice later, when you go back to take a closer look at a passage you particularly enjoyed.)
Will I read Two for the Dough? I don’t know. Probably, eventually. There are a lot of books on my shelf to be read first, though. While I liked this story plenty, it did not fill me with the burning desire to sit down and plow through the entire series.
Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.