Oh, Janet. Did you write this one? It feels like maybe you didn’t.
First, a summary. One of Vinnie’s bondees (is that a word?) has gone FTA and forfeited his collateral, The Red River Deli in Trenton, which means that Vinnie is now the proud owner. The only problem? Three managers have gone missing in the last month, so Vinnie taps Stephanie and Lula to run the show. As bad as Stephanie is as a bond enforcement agent, she’s even worse as a deli manager. On the other hand, Lula is surprisingly pretty good at it, even if the health department needs to look the other way every time she’s in the kitchen. Morelli’s on the case of the missing managers, and Ranger’s on the scene because one of his men (Hal) winds up missing, too.
It all sounds vintage Stephanie Plum, but there was something different about this book that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. There were no car explosions, no mention of Big Blue, no truly wacky shenanigans, no meals with Morelli at Pino’s, no Simon Diggery, no Tank (again), very little of Connie, even less of Grandma Mazur, no funerals, and no Mrs. Plum ironing. There’s a brief appearance by Valerie, Albert Kloughn, and their weird kids (the eldest hasn’t outgrown the horse thing yet), who haven’t been seen in at least ten books. I thought for sure when Lula posited the alien theory that Mooner would show up, but he hasn’t been seen in awhile, either. Bizarrely, Wuulf made an appearance, which I found strange after Diesel showed up in book 24, but his storyline was never really fleshed out, kind of like Diesel’s last appearance. Vinnie is around more – he shows up naked except for one shoe. There is very little in the area of actual bounty hunting, and one of the two FTAs Stephanie recovers is a dead body that seems to leave her pretty unimpressed. The other involves a poorly written catnapping scene that would have been more funny had there not been exploding roadkill in the last book.
And I have to say that the Ranger/Stephanie/Morelli thing bothered me this time around. Normally, I’m all for letting the girl have a little fun as long as all parties are okay with it. But this time, it felt different. After the comfortable domesticity of last book where Stephanie practically moved in with Morelli because Diesel was in town, and pointedly did NOT stay with Ranger, Janet did a complete 180. Morelli tells Stephanie that he and Ranger have worked it out that one of them is with her at all times, which means when Joe is called to a crime scene, Ranger swoops in to babysit her. And if Ranger gets caught up somewhere, he physically hands her off to Morelli, or, in most cases, sends one of his men to watch her. Like, Stephanie has a 24 hour bodyguard in the form of a Rangeman guy (and yet Wuulf still manages to poof in and out of her apartment without anyone seeing him). At one point, Morelli actually turns to Ranger and tells him that he needs to take her home with him, because Morelli’s going to be awhile. Stephanie says something to the effect of, “You trust Ranger?”, and Joe says, “No, but I trust you”. Which I guess is growth? Maybe it shows that Morelli is comfortable with their relationship? But it’s RANGER. I mean, COME ON. Nothing happens, because Stephanie talks herself out of it, but Ranger certainly doesn’t make it easy. And Ranger used to be pretty circumspect about the whole thing; he let Stephanie know the offer was on the table, but he was never really aggressive about it and never really propositioned her. Last book he basically said the ball was in Stephanie’s court and that he wasn’t going to do anything. This time? He’s actually asking, which is a big departure from his usual MO. It’s almost like Ranger is getting ready to make a move to make a commitment to Stephanie. And Joe seems totally disinterested. At times it almost read like Ranger and Morelli have a gentleman’s agreement when it comes to her, which, if that’s what everyone wants, then okay, but nobody’s, you know, talked to Stephanie about this.
I don’t know. I’ll still read these as along as she churns them out, but I’ll come here to bitch about it.
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