REVIEW OF FOUR TO SCORE
(Published in Mostly Murder Magazine. Please contact Mark Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint.)
Reviewer Mark Levine interviewing author Janet Evanovich
TITLE: FOUR TO SCORE
AUTHOR: Janet Evanovich
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's Press
PUBLICATION: June 1998
Review by Mark Levine
The question of Janet Evanovich's sanity has come up many times with her hilarious Stephanie Plum
series, and it's sure to come up again with her most recent adventure, FOUR TO SCORE.
In this latest addition, self-taught bounty hunter Stephanie Plum finds herself on a simple mission:
Find and recapture one Maxine Nowicki. Arrested for stealing her boyfriend's car, Nowicki failed to
appear before the court. Bail is forfeit unless Nowicki is caught. Should be no problem for a fearless
investigator like Plum.
Too bad nothing's simple. It seems Nowicki really hates the boyfriend, Eddie Kuntz. Nowicki has
started sending coded messages to Kuntz, trying to blackmail him with some personal property
Kuntz has. Kuntz hires Plum to help him recover the property by giving him access to Nowicki
before she hauls her in to the cops. Kuntz claims this is about some old love letters. Wiley detective
Plum figures he's lying, but then it isn't entirely ethical for her to be working for him as well as the
Plum elicits the help of Sally Sweet, a transvestite rock musician who happens to be good with
codes. Along with Lulu, a large black ex-hooker who works at the agency, the three go running
across New Jersey following up on these coded messages, all of them clad in hose.
Things heat up: There is a deliberately set fire that totals Plum's apartment. No, Rex the hamster
escapes harm. Her apartment in flames, the first thing her neighbor's grab is the cute little rodent.
Somebody also blows up Plum's car -- No pets in the car. The evidence suggests somebody jealous
of Plum's boyfriend, except she's not seeing anybody.
Could it be her cop-friend, Joe Morelli? They were certainly not an item, despite the long love-hate
relationship they'd had for many years. If a jealous ex-girlfriend of Morelli's was behind the attacks,
there was bound to be more trouble: Plum moved in with Morelli on a temporary basis after the
apartment fire. Unfortunately, Nowicki doesn't turn up while any of this is going on.
Meanwhile, Plum's cousin Vinnie, the bail bondsman who employs our hero, has also assigned Joyce
Barnhardt to the Nowicki case. Now, normally hiring somebody else to your case would just be
insulting. However, Plum has some especially bad blood with Barnhardt, involving an infidelity
with Plum's husband, back when she was married. This is worse then insulting.
The cast is filled with regulars, including Plum's gun-toting Grandma Mazur, and the expert bounty
hunter known only as Ranger, who seems to spray pheremones and testosterone in his masculine
wake as he passes by. Apparently, nobody normal lives in Jersey. Good thing for Plum fans.
Evanovich whips all the wacky characters and wild plots up into a mystery souffle, which is both
hilarious and disturbingly realistic. People don't really act that way, do they? The characters are
invigorated with enough depth to give them life and humor, but not so much that they can't sustain
themselves over a series of books without becoming stale.
Certainly, Evanovich uses a stand-up comic's poetic license, so every wisecrack and retort is
knock-down funny. Punch lines comeback later in the book for a second laugh, a technique which
stand-up comics refer to as a "callback." For instance, it was funny when everyone at the bailbonds
office seemed to know when Plum had been sexually active, but it was hilarious when this kept
coming up, and even suspects and clients seemed to know. This humor is somewhat transparent for
maximum laugh value, but at the same time speaks to the human condition. Something like this has
happened to all of us.
Well, maybe not. My car's never been blown up, I've never fed a hamster a grape, and I don't hang
out with straight transvestites who don't shave. I suspect most people haven't, which brings us back
to the question of Janet Evanovich's sanity.
Read her latest, FOUR TO SCORE, then you decide. You'll have some great laughs, and who knows? Maybe you'll buy a hamster named Rex.