Monday, August 20, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #4

Time for another book review with the focus: funny or not?


Bounty hunter resolves love life problems of four clients on the eve of Valentines Day while pondering three male candidates of her own.

What Works
The author's trademark breezy, amusing style is on full display in this slice of life of enduring heroine Stephanie Plum. The main point of this so-called 'between-the-numbers-novel' seems to be to create the basis for a love quadrangle (credit alert: this excellent new word courtesy of Bonnie Staring, word smith). The new addition on Ms. Plum's arguably already overpopulated romance radar is mystery man Diesel - dangerously appealing and in some way Unmentionable.

The unmentionableness of various characters becomes a bit of a running gag. The reader is never informed what this really entails (it is, after all, unmentionable) but appears to involve odd talents. The character who comes closest to being a villain, for example, can inflict hives - but it's not entirely under his control so he mistakenly gives them to himself. During an early scene, Diesel describes a female character as '....only mildly Unmentionable.' In a book market currently teeming with fantasy and paranormal characters who are not only all-powerful but more often than not physically perfect, having (somewhat) paranormal characters with highly ordinary physical appearance and wielding decidedly low-level skills is a refreshing change.

What Doesn't
If one is looking for a quick, frothy beach read meant to provide a pleasant hour without any literary aspirations, then this book is a success. If one is looking for believable plot development and character growth, then it is a disappointment. All the client love dilemmas are resolved with remarkable ease. The supposed villain, Beaner, is set up at the start as much more of a sinister character than he actually turns out to be. Stephanie and Diesel are both precisely the same at the end as they were in the beginning.

In terms of humor, what works least for one reader may be exactly what works best for another. Apprentice Writer has not read any other Plum books, but she has read a few of the author's single-title romantic comedies. They seem to share certain characteristics: a) quirky sidekicks designed to lend an air of sweet (but not nauseating) 'wanting-to-do-the-right-thing'ness to the heroine by comparison, b) an animal designed to lend an air of hijinks, c) an eccentric elderly lady, designed to lend an air of slapstick by acting against stereotype. Each could be quickly slotted into place as they appeared here - Lula, a former prostitute with a penchant for donuts, hears that the first single candidate for whom they must find a match is 42 and divorced. When Lula asks if she wouldn't just be satisfied with '...some nasty, sweaty sex' for which Lula would be able to supply the candidates, Stephanie replies '...I think it has to be true love.' Bob the dog has a ridiculous appetite. And Grandma Mazur has had her lips plumped, plans to get butt implants because they are on sale, and immediately ditches her afternoon plans when she finds out she can watch porn for educational purposes with her granddaughter instead. Check, check, check.
It's not that these characters don't fit the plot or aren't funny; they do, and are. It's more a sense that the story is following a familiar pattern. For some, this is a defect. For legion Grandma Mazur fans, it's a comfort.

Capable, workman-like effort by this reliable author.

But does it make you laugh? YES
In Apprentice Writer's case, this meant smiles rather than outright chuckles. But smile she did, every few pages or so throughout the book - not a self-understood reading experience for her at all.

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