Note: This review contains SPOILERS from the book.
The book Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich, is, not surprisingly, the twenty-second installment of Evanovich’s bounty hunter Stephanie Plum’s series of the comic crime fiction subgenre. Unfortunately, anyone who has read other books in the series and were excited for the next book may as well just reread one of the earlier novels instead of waiting months for your turn at the library. Evanovich now has had the recipe down for the typical Plum novel. I would say this formulaic aspect has occurred in at least the last ten books in the series, and she sticks to it.
Stephanie Plum, the main character in all the novels, is a blue-eyed cutie with “a lot of unruly curly brown hair” (4) and an aversion to make-up. She becomes a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie’s Bail Bonds in the first novel, One for the Money, after being laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer. Stephanie is known for being the “bumbling detective”, rarely able to capture the FTAs (Failure to Appear), and if she does it is a “result of stubbornness and dumb luck” (115).
Stephanie has two love interests. The first is old high school fling and handsome cop Joseph Morelli, who is reliable and safe. The second is Ranger, a mysterious bad boy who lights Stephanie’s lady bits on fire whenever he is around. As the books are sent in Trenton, New Jersey, Stephanie’s parents live in the Burg. She is sometimes accompanied on the job by her wacky Grandma Mauzer, whose penchant for discharging her firearm at inappropriate times is commonplace. Accompanying her often is Lula, a ho turned file clerk at Vinnie’s Bail Bonds office. Lula has a big mouth, and an even bigger ass, and we have learned since book two that you don’t mess with Lula.
In this volume Stephanie finds herself with the job of picking up FTA Ken Globovic (aka Gobbles), a Zeta fraternity brother who is accused of assaulting the Dean of Kiltman college. Gobbles attends Kiltman as a biology major and he has an eccentric advisor. But when two men in construction, who happen to be Kiltman alumni, turn up dead in succession, a possible connection to Kiltman is considered and Stephanie again gets wrapped up in another overwhelming situation bigger than herself. Add in some “catfishing” by Grandma Mauzer, a skip called Billy Bacon who used bacon grease to escape the scene of his crime, and you have yourself the next Plum novel.
When I said that this novel follows the Plum series recipe, I wasn’t even remotely kidding. Even though the book has a plot, the majority of the scenes involve the same themes found in all the books. Soon after the book begins we are subjected to a typical car ride with Stephanie and Lula, which involves leaving whatever job they were on to find some sort of unhealthy food, this time involving egg salad and donuts. Yet somehow, despite this constant intake of massive calories (occurring in every book), plus an extreme lack of exercise, Stephanie remains petite and adorable, and continues to whet the appetite of both Morelli and Ranger. Over the course of the book there are also references to pizza, Cluck-in-a-Bucket fried chicken, and vodka rigatoni, among other weighty culinary delights.
The dilemma of Morelli or Ranger, Stephanie’s reoccurring drama of which suitor to choose, plays out again in this novel. After Morelli breaks up with her she flops back over to Ranger, though she keeps it chaste with him in this book. Both men claim to have feelings for her, with Ranger even stating, “I’m completely enamored with you, and I have no idea why” (117). No really, Ranger, WHY?? He’s constantly trying to save her from the messes she gets herself into. Honestly, the relationship that Stephanie has with these two men has been beaten to death in these books. The idea that she can’t choose and make a commitment doesn’t come across as female empowerment, but simply as a woman who can’t help but play two men at the same time. And it happens in EVERY book. In this book it begins by her being broken up with by Morelli and it ends with him asking her about them getting married. That’s a big sway in 282 pages.
The book also played into Stephanie’s reoccurring habit of destroying the cars she acquires. In Tricky Twenty-Two she ends up with a load of pooping geese in one car, and another gets crushed accordion-style when a car pursuit stops abruptly. But how does she afford new cars? Ranger gives them to her. Because destroying tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of cars continuously is normal, right? Readers are also subjected again to her worried, and thus alcoholic, mother, random firearm discharges by Lula and Grandma Mauzer (for which they never seem to get in trouble), and Stephanie contemplating her life choice to be a bounty hunter. Spoiler, she doesn’t decide to quit. I mean, we have to at least get to Turbulent Twenty-Five.
Some of the most unrealistic themes in the book, in consideration to real-life crime drama, is the absence of being affected by murder. Stephanie herself finds one of the murdered men and although shocked, is found joking about it a few pages later. She has short crying jags, which is apparently her way of dealing with the mass amounts of drama in her life, but pulls it together by the end of every chapter, and is ready for the next snarky comment.
I can now honestly say that I am done with the recycling in these books. I remember reading the first few years ago, and laughing out loud at the one-liners that Evanovich would write. There are still a few funny lines, especially those from Lula. Quotes like, “I’m gonna have the death cooties” (163) and “Well, I’m just saying you got seduction cleavage going on, and I’m thinking your subconscious has plans” (192), but they are few and far between. I can’t even add a brief passage to entice the reader because there honestly isn’t anything worthy.
In the end the murders are solved, with help from both Morelli and Ranger, per usual. Stephanie doesn’t seem to have any discernible talent that helped, besides maybe a bit of tenacity. She does capture two FTAs in the duration of this book, which apparently gives her enough money to live on.
Although I believe that long-time readers with continue to purchase the next of these books out of loyalty (or stubbornness), I personally won’t read any more unless I am made aware that Stephanie Plum has moved in some sort of forward direction. If we want that for ourselves, why wouldn’t we want that for the characters we love? If you love Stephanie Plum, and can’t imagine a mystery fiction world without her, then you will want to read this book. Otherwise, find one of the myriad of other mystery fiction books in the world, and read that instead.