Eleven on Top

Four to Score

High Five

Hot Six

Motor Mouth

The Rocky Road to Romance

Seven Up

Visions of Sugar Plums

Fearless Fourteen
by Janet Evanovich
(St. Martin's, 27.95, V) ISBN  978-0-312-34951-6
Not one single car blew up in Fearless Fourteen. Grandma Mazur had just one scene – and it isfairly nondescript. There's only one dinner at Stephanie's parents' and just one trip to the fried chicken joint.

Stephanie Plum has a tradition of being funny, right? And her tradition of being funny is based on traditions such as I mentioned above. Like, holding your sides, tears rolling down your face funny. Thirteen regular novels and three holiday novels into the series, that's what the reader has come to expect. Hell, most of us came to expect it thirty pages into One for the Money.  I chuckled maybe half a dozen times through Fearless Fourteen.

Of course, Fearless Fourteen is considerably shorter than the average novel. It's numbered to 310 pages, but the chapters are pretty short, and oftentimes you'll find a blank page between them. It's more along the lines of the in-between novels as far as length is concerned.

And, as far as I'm concerned, it more closely resembles them in content as well. While Fearless Fourteen doesn't have Diesel the angel (or whatever he is), it also doesn't have much action, romance, or Evanovich's usual flair for the dramatic.

The gist is this: a woman whose brother just got out of prison for robbery has gone missing. Stephanie and Morelli end up babysitting her son, Mario, who bears a striking resemblance to Joe and is about the right age to come from Morelli's ... naughtier days. Loretta's gone missing, it turns out, because her brother's partners want the money from the heist and decided kidnapping her was the quickest way to get it. Only he doesn't know where it is either, and most of the humor in Fearless Fourteen derives from everybody treasure hunting, primarily on Morelli's property.

 When two of the partners wind up murdered and Stephanie is all of a sudden in contact with the "silent" partner, things heat up. Or, they should have, in theory. In addition to babysitting Mario, Stephanie is on another babysitting mission with Ranger, much to Joe's distaste.

Only this charge is a 60-year-old former pop star named Brenda with a penchant for plastic surgery and men half her age. Brenda is by far the most entertaining character in Fearless Fourteen. Stephanie, Morelli, Ranger, Connie, Grandma Mazur, and even Lula just lack their usual luster.

The witty banter seems forced and the quirks just aren't there. Seventeen novels into a series, you're not going to just skip one. So, if you're in that boat, check the book out at the library or get it used instead of paying store price for it. If you're thinking of Fearless Fourteen as a foray into Evanovich, don't. Go back to the beginning, when putting down a Stephanie Plum novel felt like quitting in the middle of a particularly delicious candy bar.

--Sarrah Knight

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