Michelle Levigne

A recovering Trekker and Cleveland Indians fan, Michelle Levigne works full-time as a freelance editor. Current projects include the upcoming print version of her SF series, “The Chorillan Cycle,” from OakTara, Arthurian fantasy, “The Zygradon Chronicles,” at Uncial Press, and the YA fantasy series “The Hunt,” at Writers Exchange, Australia. Heavy influences in her life include Bill Cosby, Isaac Airfreight, and Marvel Comics. Website: www.Mlevigne.com.

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich is plum crazy.

I have a confession. I can’t wait for the paperback or e-book version of the adventures of Jersey girl bounty hunter, gun-in-the-cookie-jar Stephanie Plum. I buy hardback. Janet Evanovich has created a character so three-dimensional and addicting, I have to get my “fix” ASAP.

But this time . . . I don’t know. It was a romp; it had me snickering so that I got Coke up my nose. (No, the other direction, and dark liquid, not white powder. Honestly, you people have such negative minds!) But in this Plum-licious adventure, something was missing.

The latest offering is Plum Spooky. Considering that the last few books took place around Christmas and Valentine’s Day, with a title like that you’d expect Halloween. Right?

Let’s see, we got the Easter Bunny (retired), Sasquatch, and the Jersey Devil. And a weird little guy who shoots flames out of his butt. With her luck being the way it is, Stephanie has to stumble around the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, looking for a psychotic genius who has jumped bail, and encounter all sorts of weird creatures. Plus, she has to deal with a monkey named Carl, who often has more intelligence than some people she runs into. But no Halloween.

Hello—big letdown. I was all set to see Grandma Mazur dressed up as Princess Leia from the Jabba the Hut sequence of Jedi.

That’s a big rule for writers: Keep your promises to readers. No trick-or-treaters, no battle between Stephanie and her supersized former ho friend Lula for a bag of Halloween candy. No jack-o’-lanterns lobbed from the top of the apartment building and smashed to pulp in front of her so Stephanie ends up in a gloppy mess in the middle of an apprehension gone bad. Disappointing. The few times she talks about the time of the year, she says, “September.” Excuse me, but the last time I looked, Halloween was in October.

There are the expected staples of Stephanie’s world—dinner at her parents’ home ending in disaster, messing up a few captures of really psycho bail jumpers, Lula’s using her Glock to hit everything but the guy who’s shooting at them. The between-the-numbers books always feature Diesel (bounty hunter/enforcement agent for the supernatural phenomenon set) enlisting Stephanie’s help to capture yet another Unmentionable (think weird, un-super superhero type or mythological character). But if Diesel is such a talented guy, why does he need Stephanie’s help? Can we say “logic hole big enough to drive the Enterprise through”?

Sometimes keeping promises to readers means following through on promises set up in previous books. What about Stephanie’s relationship with Joe Morelli, bad-boy-turned-cop? Honestly, ever since he got a house and a dog, he’s a little too domesticated, know what I mean? Of course, I’d be more disappointed if he didn’t show up at all, because ever since One for the Money, I’ve envisioned him as my favorite Italian actor (no, not him, the one who drove a Corvette on TV in the

80s!). In this book, the tough guy cop can’t tell his mooching, hound dog brother to straighten up, make up with his wife, and go home. What happened to Joe the vice cop? Okay, so this is family and you don’t disobey when your Italian mother expects you to help your brother. But still . . . Instead of their roller-coaster relationship, Stephanie and Joe have settled into a holding pattern. All they seem to have holding them together is fun sex. Isn’t there more to a relationship?

And then there’s Ranger, the super-secretive security specialist (dang, ran out of S words!) with an entire fleet of black cars and big tough employees all dressed in black. There used to be a subtle competition between Joe and Ranger to see who would win Stephanie. Now, Ranger is tame, too. All he does is provide bodyguards for Stephanie when she is in over her head, or smirk and say “Babe” a lot.

The rhythm, the feel of the book isn’t what I found before. JE has turned to bathroom humor and sex to get laughs. A guy who erupts fire from his butt when he eats the wrong food. Carl the monkey responding to most situations by giving someone the finger. Referring to a former-cop-turned-Chippendale-type dancer as the “token heterosexual.” The psychotic genius who can’t get a girl unless someone ties her up for him. Diesel’s continuing unsubtle attempts to convince Stephanie it’s inevitable they’ll have sex. I don’t want to go back to previous books and discover it was so “lowest common denominator” before, and my taste is just more mature. I’m worried: I got my mother hooked on Stephanie Plum!

Little things have gone from mildly amusing to disturbing. Stephanie’s mom quietly resorting to the bottle in the kitchen to deal with stress. Lula taking pills indiscriminately to deal with a temporary sneezing problem. Stephanie’s father a nonentity in the house, except to give people weary, disgusted looks.

Then there’s the comment on page 15: “Truth is, I’m a good Catholic girl. The faith has always been elusive, but the guilt is intractable.” Is that what religious belief is in Stephanie’s world? Something nebulous that doesn’t provide anything but guilt? Sad state of affairs. Can it be changed? How much of a reflection of the real world is this snippet?

Don’t get me wrong. I bow at Janet Evanovich’s feet in apple green envious admiration. Is she caving to reader pressure for more and crazier, and depending on more sex and bathroom humor to bolster the humor and tension? I prefer intellectual humor that stems from situations, not the vulgar. How soon until we grow numb to the vulgarity and start producing it ourselves, without realizing it?

Maybe the time is coming when the Jersey girl has visited Cluck-in-a-Bucket too many times, and she can’t fit into her jeans and our expectations. I hope that never happens. Janet, please don’t let us down!