Recently, a friend loaned me Janet Evanovich’s second Stephanie Plum novel, Two for the Dough. Stephanie Plum is a 30-year-old almost novice bounty hunter who works for her bail bondsman cousin, Vinnie, in Trenton, NJ. In this novel, her job is to find a certain Kenny Mancuso and return him to jail. Throughout the novel, she works to achieve this goal, most often thwarted by other people — her Grandma Mazur who enjoys attending viewings at funeral homes for entertainment and a little slapstick; Joe Morelli, a cop with whom she has a long history (they dated in high school) and palpable sexual tension; Spiro Stiva, a funeral director caught up in criminal activity; and Kenny himself.
As a writer, I love to see how another writer presents the characters and sets each apart as an individual, the dialogue, character development and description.
Stephanie is both the main character and point-of-view character. Evanovich captures the attitudes and working class life of New Jersey in this character superbly. She’s a tough cookie who has a hamster named Rex for a pet. Evanovich shows the reader who Stephanie is, her behavior, in the context of relationships and action with other characters such as her family, the cops and the slime balls she pursues. What she thinks about other people comes through in her thoughts about their appearance, voices, and what she knows about their backgrounds. Stephanie’s world is a complex and rich one. And she is unique. Her view of the other characters in the story and how she responds to them makes them unique also.
The dialogue captures the rhythms, slang and attitudes of that area of New Jersey. The novel is cinematic in its focus on dialogue and action, both of which rang true for me. What I loved, though, was the comic action evolving organically out of character, dialogue and situation. This was done brilliantly and made for some hilarious moments in the story. Grandma Mazur, especially, has some wonderful scenes with corpses in caskets at funeral home viewings that would be over the top if her character hadn’t been set up so well beforehand.
This novel is a plot-driven story so the action is far more important than character development. I usually prefer more character development, digging deep into the main character for motivation, background, desires, etc. But Stephanie is a worthy vehicle to drive the story forward as she works to deal with the conflicts and obstacles that arise in her path and to achieve her goal.
I also usually prefer more description, especially of the landscape of the place in which the story occurs and how it reflects the characters and their lives. Evanovich is very stingy with describing the physical settings, giving just enough to differentiate scenes.
Would I recommend this novel? For pure entertainment and some good laughs, yes. I enjoyed my reading experience and might pick up another Stephanie Plum novel in the future.