It's been a while since I read this book. A long while. I've put off writing the synopsis for so long that I had to leaf through the book just to remind myself what happened. So this isn't going to be a detailed synopsis - my main goal is to finish this post and finally get the book out of my apartment.
Stephanie opens her door one day to discover that she's going to be watching out for a monkey named Carl for an indefinite amount of time (Carl's owner: Susan Stitch - who the heck is that??). Not long after being saddled with Carl, Stephanie is visited by Diesel, the mysterious and probably supernatural guy who turns up in all the Between-the-Numbers books and who never even crosses Stephanie's mind in the regular books. Morelli never sees Diesel, because Morelli is too busy dealing with his deadbeat brother, who was recently thrown out by his fed-up wife.
Anyway, Diesel is looking for some supernatural Big Bad name Wulf (Big Bad Wolf, har har), who has a habit of killing people and leaving burns in the shape of his hands on their necks. Wulf is teamed up with a socially-inept genius named Munch who missed his court date and stole some science-y stuff with names I can't remember. Stephanie needs to catch Munch, and Diesel needs to stop Wulf from doing whatever it is he's trying to do. They team up, because Stephanie's still too inept to catch the tough ones on her own (especially not when Lula keeps tagging along - Lula may have been useful when she first appeared in the series, but she gets in the way more often than not now). Diesel claims that his being around Stephanie will make it hard for Wulf to find him. Whatever.
There's some stuff after that that I don't remember so well. Stephanie looking for other skips and generally not doing so well - she gets pelted by vegetables at least once. There's a guy dressed like the Easter Bunny, a guy who can fart fire, and a whole bunch of monkeys wearing little metal helmets. At some point, Stephanie gets caught by Wulf and Munch, and Wulf gives her to Munch as his sex slave. Up to that point, you might think Munch is an adorable-looking (he looks about 12, even though he's an adult) pathetic hanger-on who could really use some help learning how to properly interact with people. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that Munch fully intends to rape Stephanie if he has to - he just wants to have sex with a woman, he doesn't care if she's willing.
Of course, Stephanie doesn't get raped, but it's still an overall freaky experience for her. She learns that Munch and Wulf had planned to build a device that could control the weather and then use that device to blackmail cities. If I remember right, the monkeys with little helmets are somehow part of the plan. Stephanie and Diesel (probably mostly Diesel) stop Wulf and Munch and save a lady the two had been holding hostage. Ranger makes an appearance. Diesel leaves. Carl goes back to Susan.
Oh yeah, you know how Lula and Tank's relationship just seemed to disappear after Fearless Fourteen? Well, it turns out that's explained in this book: Lula is allergic to cats, and Tank loves them in an "I'm secretly a little old crazy cat lady" kind of way. Tank would rather give up Lula than the cats, so Lula decides it's over between them.
Evanovich boxed herself in a bit, by going with a holiday theme for the Between-the-Numbers books - with a character named "Wulf," I kept expecting "werewolf" and then nothing ever happened. All I can think is that maybe Evanovich thought that just having a dangerous villain with supernatural powers counted as "spooky."
Looking over my synopsis, it really reflects badly on Finger Lickin' Fifteen that I think this book is better than that one. I mean, the story's not terribly interesting, the best Evanovich can come up with in the way of kooky is monkeys, and the villains may have their creepy/icky aspects (Munch the would-be rapist, ew), but then Evanovich drops in the whole "they plan to control the weather to make lots of money and take over the world" thing. That last bit is like something out of Pinky and the Brain. I loved that show, but trying to combine a Brain-style plan with villains supposedly capable of making Stephanie feel shaky and pale with fear didn't really work out so well. One diminishes the other.
If I'm remembering the other Between-the-Numbers books right, this one is a bit darker and heavier than the other ones - I wonder if Evanovich plans to continue with that in the next one? I hope not. For one thing, "dark and heavy" needs to be able to have an effect on characters. To my mind, the Between-the-Numbers books are supposed to be short, light adventures that take place outside the normal storyline. Although the books apparently take place in the same world as the regular Stephanie Plum books, readers are expected to accept and get over the fact that, in the regular books, Stephanie never even thinks about Diesel or the hints of magic that turn up in By-the-Numbers books. Not only that, none of the other characters think about Diesel or magic, either. I kind of got the feeling that Evanovich wrote the By-the-Numbers books to alleviate some boredom she might have been feeling with the regular Stephanie Plum books - this was a way for her to relieve that boredom without having the "recreate the wheel" and come up with a whole new series, new cast of characters, and new world. Either that, or Evanovich and/or her publisher wanted her to cash in on the popularity of paranormal romance in some way.
Whatever, moving on. Anyway, my point is, the Between-the-Numbers books sort of depend upon nothing happening in them that has any lasting effect. Otherwise, the suspension of disbelief that's necessary to deal with the whole "no one thinks about Diesel or magic" thing gets even harder. And Evanovich messed up on that in two ways in this book.
One, she got a bit dark in this book, and had a villain freak Stephanie out by basically telling her he planned to rape her. This isn't a huge mess-up, though, because lots of people in the regular books have threatened Stephanie, tried to kill her, etc. - so it's maybe easier for readers to talk themselves into believing that Stephanie doesn't think about the events of this book at all in the next regular book because this kind of stuff happens to her all the time.
However, two, Evanovich had Tank and Lula officially break up in this book. The explanation for their break up is in this book. I remembering thinking it was kind of strange that Lula never even gave Tank much thought in Finger Lickin' Fifteen, and now I know why - Evanovich put information that applies to characters from her regular books in a not-supposed-to-affect-the-main-storyline book. True, Tank and Lula aren't main characters, but I still think this is a slip-up. If readers are supposed to accept that all the magic and supernatural strangeness of the Between-the-Numbers doesn't cross over into the regular books, then Evanovich needs to do a better job of keeping the regular books from sliding into the Between-the-numbers books. Having the explanation for Lula and Tank's break-up in this book was sloppy.
I haven't read a Stephanie Plum book in a long time that made me want to actually buy it, even used. With all the complaints I keep having about the newer books, I really should just quit reading the series. But it's hard to quit - I started this series because I needed something I could turn to for a good, quick, fun, and funny read. For a long time, this series was my reading equivalent of a slice of cake or a bowl of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. I'm having problems accepting that all of that may be over. Maybe it's time to look for a new literary junk food equivalent.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter with a laid-back attitude, amazing fighting skills, and a dark past. He's partners with Jet Black, a former cop, and, as the series progresses, his group grows to include Faye Valentine (a sexy, tricky gambler who can't really remember her past) and Ed (a weird and cheerful young hacker). A lot of the episodes, especially the earlier ones, are mostly humorous and include a lot of fast, madcap action - those who liked the action and humorous aspects of this book might like this series.
- Undead and Unwed (book) by MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unwed is the first book in a series about Betsy Taylor, a fashion- and shoe-obsessed woman who unexpectedly becomes a vampire. Not just any vampire, either - she's the queen of the vampires. She's got to deal with a sexy vampire named Eric Sinclair, a very evil vampire named Nostro, and new abilities she doesn't know anything about. Those who'd like another humorous series with a dose of romance might want to try this, which should be particularly appealing to those who also like the supernatural aspects of the Between-the-Numbers books. Just be warned, this series gets darker after a while.
- You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is the first book in MacAlister's Aisling Grey series. All Aisling wants to do is deliver an old, gold dragon statue to her uncle's client in Paris. Instead, she comes across a dead woman and a mysterious and sexy man. The man (who is also a dragon), named Drake, disappears, along with the statue. Aisling has to prove she didn't kill the woman and recover the statue, all while dealing with the revelation that she is a Guardian (basically, the Keeper of the Gates to Hell). Yet another series that combines action, humor (a Newfie demon is about as quirky as it gets, though), fantasy, and a bit of romance. Be warned, this series gets a bit darker as it progresses.