Sizzling Sixteen

By Janet Evanovich

St. Martin's Press. 309 pp. $27.99

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Reviewed by Paul Davis


Variety.com recently reported that actress Katherine Heigl has landed a "plum" role.

Heigl is set to portray Janet Evanovich's comic crime-fighting character, Stephanie Plum, in a film version of One for the Money, the first book in the popular series.

Plum, for those who don't read chick-lit comic crime fiction, is a pretty bond-enforcement agent from Trenton - a modern-day bounty hunter.

The half-Italian, half-Hungarian Jersey girl became a bounty hunter after losing her job as a lingerie buyer, and as she freely admits in Sizzling Sixteen, she is not a very good bounty hunter.

As a bond-enforcement agent, she is supposed to hunt down felons who fail to appear for their court dates and subsequently forfeit their bond. After losing her job in lingerie, she blackmailed her cousin, a bail bondsman named Vinnie Plum, into letting her work for him.

Stephanie Plum describes her cousin as a good bail bondsman, but a slimeball otherwise. Vinnie Plum was something of a sexual degenerate and a gambling degenerate, and both pursuits caused difficulties for him and those around him.

In Sizzling Sixteen, Vinnie Plum is kidnapped by his bookie, Mickey Gritch, because of huge unpaid bets. Gritch, who works for Bobby Sunflower, a notorious gangster in Trenton, demands a large sum of money in return for Vinnie Plum's safe return.

Stephanie Plum has to rescue her cousin from the hoodlums, not necessarily out of family loyalty or love, but rather to preserve her job.

She is aided in her quest by the series regulars who return to this new novel.

Lulu is a former prostitute with a pure "Jersey" attitude, a plus-size body, and milk chocolate skin, and she sports - this week - fire-engine-red hair. Lulu is the office file clerk, wheelman, and fashion maven, favoring green spandex miniskirts, leopard print tops, and a wide variety of shoes.

Connie Rosolli, all Jersey, is the bail-bond office manager who is not so fondly remembered as a holy terror from high school.

To preserve their jobs, the three women go up against Sunflower's criminal organization, and they strike at his various criminal hangouts, hoping to discover where Vinnie is being held.

Their quest, fueled by buckets of fried chicken and doughnuts, is one comic mishap after another. Hoping to raise some cash by catching felons who skipped out on their bonds, Stephanie and Lulu go bounty hunting.

Lulu accidentally releases a herd of cows from a slaughterhouse where a felon was working. The cows trample along Trenton's busy streets, to the consternation of drivers and pedestrians who have never seen a cattle stampede.

"They were like born-free cows," Lulu observes.

Stephanie also has trouble capturing a 72-year-old felon named Dirk McCurdle, who is called McCuddle because he was married to four women. And she has difficulty capturing Lenny Pickeral, a man who stole toilet paper from dozens of restrooms on the New Jersey Turnpike as a protest of their quality.

Looking for leverage to solve the Vinnie problem, Stephanie and Lulu decide to break into an apartment that Sunflower uses as a money drop. The idea is to steal Sunflower's money and give it back to him as ransom for Vinnie Plum.

Unfortunately, inside the apartment is a huge alligator, which Sunflower uses to protect his money. Stephanie and Lulu break in and distract the alligator by tossing about fried chicken as they try to find the hidden cash.

As if cows were not enough, Lulu unleashes the full-grown alligator on an unsuspecting Trenton community.

Connie leaves her desk at the bail-bond office to help Stephanie and Lulu rescue Vinnie Plum from a funeral home owned by Sunflower. Connie makes several stink bombs, one of her specialties from high school, and Stephanie drops them in the funeral home and then whisks her cousin out of there.

But that's not the end of the story.

As usual, Stephanie's two main love interests come to her rescue after each botched rescue and fund-raising effort: childhood-bad-boy-turned-Trenton-cop Joe Morelli and muscular Cuban American soldier of fortune and security specialist Ranger (no other name, just Ranger.)

The novel has a half-dozen other odd characters, including a group of men attending a Hobbit convention while eating brownies laced with an illegal substance, and Grandma Mazur, a character who seems to be written for actress Betty White.

Sizzling Sixteen does sizzle.

Paul Davis is a South Philadelphia-based writer who blogs at http://pauldavisoncrime.blogspot.com. He can be reached at PaulDavisOnCrime@aol.com.