Other Stephanie Plum books:

One for the Money

Two for the Dough

Three to Get Deadly

Four to Score by Janet Evanovich
(St. Martins, $23.95, PG) ISBN 0-312-18586-3
If I didn't cling fervently to the hope that maybe this would be the book in which Stephanie Plum finally gets her man, I'm not sure that, as a romance reader, I would have rushed to read Four to Score. I guess hope really does spring eternal. I like Evanovich's four Stephanie Plum books, but I do miss a strong romance plot line. Four to Score is not a romance; it is a first-rate mystery. Get ready to grin, laugh, smirk, snicker and occasionally want to cover your eyes. Just don't expect many heavy-breathing moments.

Janet Evanovich hit the big time when she created Stephanie Plum, the kick-ass bounty hunter. Evanovich, who used to write category romances, peppered them with her characteristic biting wit. Now she writes mysteries peppered with that same characteristic biting wit.

Should you read the first three books before you read Four to Score? Only if you want to know what's going on and who the characters are. In other words, yes. They're available in paperback.

Stephanie's latest case du jour looks easy on the surface: find Maxine Nowicki, a bail jumper caught stealing her boyfriend Eddie's car. Eddie, who turned Maxine in, hires Stephanie to find her. Maxine has something Eddie wants, badly. He claims Maxine has some love letters which might prove embarrassing, but whatever she has, it's more important to him than his car.

Stephanie and Eddie are not the only ones looking for Maxine. Cousin Vinnie has hired another bounty hunter to look for her. It's Joyce Bernhardt, Stephanie's mortal enemy, the woman she caught, "bare assed on the dining room table, playing hide-the-salami with [Stephanie's] husband."

Maxine hasn't left town. She's playing a strange game, sort of a revenge driven scavenger hunt, with Eddie, leaving clues where he can find his 'love letters.' Maxine may be in more trouble than she realizes. Her friends are being terrorized, and one is even found dead.

If dealing with Maxine, Joyce-the-husband-stealer and Eddie, who considers himself a stud but whose knuckles probably drag the ground, are not bad enough, Stephanie's pissed someone off royally. First her car, then her apartment is firebombed. The action may get hotter when a suddenly homeless Stephanie, along with Rex the hamster, moves in with Joe Morelli.

Hallelujah, the regular cast of characters is present: Joe, Ranger, Grandma Mazur, ex-hooker and bounty hunter-in-training Lula and introducing Sally Sweet, a transvestite rock musician, who almost steals the show by himself. What he does with makeup and a corset is amazing.

Below are a few of Stephanie's personal philosophies, her words of wisdom . . . if you squint just right.

On Dealing with Joe Morelli

    From here on out, Morelli was erotica non grata. Look but Don't Touch.

On Her Approach to Lovemaking

    Lovemaking in the kitchen is not always safe. Maybe we should go to the bedroom. Get away from the sharp knives in case something goes wrong and I'm tempted to stab him.

On Morelli's Approach to Lovemaking

    The gun stays. Nothing's stopping me this time. You change your mind, and I'll shoot you.

On Grandma Mazur and Drag Queens

    I always wanted to know what you do with your dingdong when you wear girl's clothes.

On Being Friends with Ranger

    I never asked Ranger where he got his cars. And he never asked me my weight.

On Living in New Jersey

    Life is about survival of the fittest, and Jersey is producing the master race.

Is Four to Score entertaining, funny and fast-paced? That's like asking if Eagle Brand Milk is delicious or if Doc Martens are ugly. I read this on vacation. Some parts were so funny that I read them aloud to my husband, who then asked if he should read it. When he finishes David McCullough's history of the Panama Canal, I think I'll loan it to him. At least I'll inject some humor into his reading. Some reviews seem to write themselves, just as some books seem to turn their own pages. This was one.

So, does Stephanie end up with Joe? Or does Ranger become more important? Does she finally shoot cousin Vinnie? Fatally wreck the big Buick? I'll never tell. Half the fun's in the wondering; the other half is in the laughing.

--Linda Mowery

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