Friday, August 14, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Lula doesn't like cops, something Janet Evanovich refers to in most of her Plum books.  So what does Lula do when she sees a man decapitated in front of her?  Ask Steph to call her boyfriend, Trenton detective Joe Morelli.  There's a slight hitch - when they return to the scene the body is missing and Joe and Steph have broken up after an argument about peanut butter.  Further complicating matters, Steph is once again working part time for RangeMan Security, this time at Ranger's request.  And this is all before Lula and Grandma Mazur decide to enter a barbecue cook-off.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen is a bit of departure for Evanovich because the main crime seems to get less attention than the subplot.  The headless man is celebrity chef Stanley Chipolte and there's a million dollar reward for solving his murder so Lula and Grandma Mazur decide to enter the cook-off in an attempt to find the killer.  Even with the help of Lula's new man, a cross-dressing fireman who bears at least a passing resemblance to Julia Child, they are far from successful.  This thread focuses more on the home aspect of Steph's life - the killers are found but the murder takes a back seat to Lula's and Grandma's attempts to make non-burnt, non-toxic barbecue sauce.  It does allow Evanovich to channel her inner teenager, with a lot of bodily function humor, most of it from Lula.

The RangeMan plot is a little tighter, and gives Steph a chance to show that she's not merely lucky.  Several of RangeMan's security clients have been burgled, and it looks like an inside job.  Steph's job is to casually investigate the RangeMan employees while doing background searches for clients.  This turns out to be a dead end, but while visiting a recent break-in with Ranger, she figures out how the crime were committed.  Using that information, they lay a trap for the robbers and save the security business.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen is well plotted, but the plot is really just a framework against which the insanity of Steph's life is set.  So we get multiple Car Deaths,  a family dinner (with the cross-dressing fireman and a produce manager named Peter Pecker whom Steph's mom thinks could be her new son-in-law), a few appearances by Joyce Barnhardt, a fire in Steph's apartment which does not reach her indestructible 70s-painted bathroom, and a secondary FTA.   Junior Turley is a flasher with a regular route (and yes, Grandma Mazur is a regular) whose capture is up there with Punky Balog.  Not only is there the unsuccessful attempt to capture him during a funeral with Grandma's help, but there's also why he was arrested.  It's middle-of-the-pack Plum, but still funny enough that reading it in public is a risky endeavor.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Plum Spooky

Stephanie Plum has a problem.  No, it's not the scientist who broke his boss's nose with a coffee cup and then disappeared after Vinnie Plum wrote his bond, or Lula's romantic problems, or the fact that Joe Morelli's brother Anthony was kicked out by his wife and is currently living with Morelli - and has been shot in the butt with a nail gun.  Or even the fact that Diesel has reappeared in her living room.  Her problem is Carl, Susan Stitch's pet monkey.  Susan has gone on her honeymoon and left Carl with Steph.  So while dealing with her FTA, who is apparently in cahoots with the Unmentionable Diesel is trying to catch, Lula's problems with Tank, and Morelli's frustrations, she also has to deal with a monkey who gives people the finger, plays GameBoy, and gets into an argument with Grandma Mazur about how to eat mashed potatoes. 

Steph and Diesel locate their respective quarries in the Pine Barrens, where they also encounter the Easter Bunny and Edgar the Fire Farter (whom, of course, Steph unknowingly invites to dinner).  Plus about twenty more monkeys.  There's a creative Car Death and  the unexpected and amusing capture of a minor FTA, just as we expect from a Stephanie Plum novel.  This is also one of the books where Stephanie is truly in danger - the Unmentionable uses Steph as a 'reward' for her FTA, and while we know she will save herself with panic and a well-placed knee, the scene is a bit creepier than we expect from Evanovich.  Still, she knows that we like our Steph books moderately fluffy so Steph escapes unscathed and even monkey-free, and in search of yet another car to destroy.

The Unruly Queen: the Life of Queen Caroline

I was never particularly interested in the media circus surrounding Charles and Diana.  She struck me as an initially naive girl who'd been roped into marriage and who eventually developed into a media-savvy woman.  He struck me as an immature jerk, but one who'd been created by his bizarre upbringing.  Strange as it may seem, I feel sorry for members of the Royal Family, or at least the ones close to succession and constantly in the public eye.  It may be nice to have the money and social cachet to be a second cousin once removed to the Queen, but you can marry when and whom you want and have your own career and interests.  The Queen's children and grandchildren are public property, their romantic lives must be seen through a dynastic lens.  Their job is to make public appearances and lend a famous face to charities, but they are rarely allowed to take an active role.

This, however, was not the most acrimonious marriage entered into by an heir to the British throne.  That dubious honor belongs to the Prince Regent and Caroline of Brunswick.   Flora Fraser wrote The Unruly Queen in 1995, at the height of the Charles and Diana conflict but managed to avoid highlighting the parallels between Charles and his great-great-great-granduncle.  

George, the Prince Regent may not have been quite as dim as portrayed by Hugh Laurie in Blackadder the Third but he was as spoiled, extravagant, and concerned with his own amusement.  George married for money - he'd been secretly married before to Maria Fitzherbert, a Catholic widow, and kept a succession of mistresses after he'd been persuaded (temporarily, at least) to end his relationship with her.  He married his first cousin Caroline solely to increase his allowance and ended all pretense of marriage as soon as she'd delivered a healthy heir.  Caroline is no more appealing of a character, although slightly more sympathetic.  She'd been raised in almost total isolation, not only kept apart from children her age (as many royals of the era were) but even after the age at which she would have made her debut was not allowed to attend formal dinners or musical performances.  It should be no surprise, then, that she was crude, childish, and willing to test the boundaries of her new-found freedom.  

Fraser paints a compelling picture of a lonely woman surrounded by people who depended on her husband for their livelihoods.  Once she'd given birth to Princess Charlotte, she was disposable and essentially excluded from royal life.  Like her husband, she had multiple affairs, but one can understand why a woman whose marriage had essentially ended on her wedding night would do so.  Unlike her husband, these affairs were crimes against the state and culminated in her trial in the House of Lords for treason and eventually her being barred from what should have been her coronation as Queen Consort.  She died soon afterwards from an intestinal obstruction and if not forgotten, left as more of a footnote to history than an important person, unlike her 20th Century successor whose media savvy will preserve her place in the collective memory.