Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich

notoriousnineteenI debated long and hard about whether or not I was going to review Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich for the blog. Until now I have stuck to literary fiction and non fiction. And as much as I like a challenging read, there are times when some lighter fare is called for. I won’t lie to you, I love Janet Evanovich, or more precisely Stephanie Plum, the character of many of her novels. She’s someone I can relate to with her aversion to domesticity and marriage. So here goes, my first review of something a little more commercial.

You already know that I love Stephanie Plum and like many of her fans it goes without saying that I will always read her latest adventure. That being said, I was a little disappointed in Notorious Nineteen. The antics Stephanie gets up to as she tries to apprehend those who have skipped out on their bail were clever and entertaining as always, but there was much about the portrayal of her private life that troubled me. For the first time, I felt that her relationship with Ranger was a little creepy and predatory. He seems to cross a line even though in this novel Stephanie is firmly with Morelli (oh yes).

The second issue I had with Notorious Nineteen is something that has bothered me with all of her novels: guns. I am a Canadian and we are not a gun toting people so gun culture is a bit of foreign concept for me. I know that in the United States carrying a gun is much more acceptable. However, given catastrophes like the recent school shooting in Newtown I would be interested to see a writer such as Evanovich take a sterner stance on gun control. It is true that Stephanie does not like to carry a gun, but the conversations about guns in her novels seems so casual. It is frightening.

Overall, I found Notorious Nineteen to be one of the weaker Stephanie Plum novels. It was still enjoyable, but not as solid as some of the others. In fact, there were times while I was reading when I thought that this may even be the last Stephanie Plum novel, though there is no solid evidence for that.

Who would like this book? If you are looking for a light, funny crime based novel Janet Evanovich is your woman. The characters that populate the Stephanie Plum novels are great. They tend towards the quirky and may not be too realistic, but they are entertaining. In a similar vein to the Stephanie Plum novels are the Spellman novels by Lisa Lutz. Lutz’s novels lack the sexual tension that permeates the Stephanie Plum novels, but are still a good read.

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

brunoBruno Chief of Police is back again solving crimes and cooking up a storm in The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker. If you are not familiar with Bruno, you should get yourself acquainted. He is a food loving, rugby playing, horse riding, wine loving French charmer, who also happens to be the Police Chief of St. Denis, a small village in the Dordogne region of France. St. Denis, in addition to being the gastronomic heartland of France, also seems to be beset by an unusual amount of crime.

In The Crowded Grave, the fourth book in the Bruno series, St. Denis finds itself at the epicenter of the war on fois gras while preparing to host a major political summit between France and Spain. But is the kerfuffle over fois gras really just a smoke screen to distract Bruno from a potential attack by Basque separatists during the summit? Oh yeah, and an archaeological team digging in the area come across a dead body. Needless to say, Bruno has his hands full.

One of the most impressive things about The Crowded Grave, like all the Bruno books, is how author Martin Walker is able to convey the complexities of topics such as the Basque separatist movement without becoming heavy handed. Looking at Walker’s background as a Senior Scholar in International Relations it comes as no surprise that he has a thorough understanding of such matters, what may be surprising is the clarity of the language that he uses. The passion Walker has for Dordogne’s food and culture is wonderfully depicted and makes the fictitious village of St. Denis as much a character in the novel as anyone else.

Who would like this book? This book is obviously a must for anyone travelling (armchair or otherwise) to the Dordogne region of France. Walker makes the character and the food of the place come alive. His descriptions of the food made me hungry for days! There seems to be a whole genre of light mysteries out there that are as much about a sense of place as solving the crime. Think Alexander McCall Smith and his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, or Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri series. The Bruno books fit in nicely with those. However, if you are looking for a mystery or police procedural with lots of high paced action, blood and guts, this may not be for you.