So there I was hunting in the mystery stacks at the St. Agnes library for some P.D. James I may not have read when I saw it—a slightly shabby paperback with the name Janet Evanovich on the crinkled spine. Curiosity got the better of me. The woman is a catrillionaire. She sells books by the container load. What are all those people reading? I slid it under the bar scanner, slipped it between the James Baldwin and the China Miéville and smuggled it home.
Hot Stuff is a riot of a read. Evanovich and co-writer Leanne Banks have concocted some wacky formula that merges romance with murder mystery and produces a hybrid that strongly resembles I Love Lucy, with corpses. The characters are pretty cliché but a few of them are downright endearing—in this case, one of the adorables is a large, slobbering dog. The protagonist is a heroine, attractive, high–achiever and a little too trusting. She has one of those big, affectionate, nosy Boston Irish families that believes a 26-year-old unmarried woman is a problem in need of a solution.
Cate has her own solutions in mind. She bartends at the local pub where a talented drag queen keeps the till full. She also rents a cheap room in his fab condo in exchange for minding the place when he travels to perform at private parties. Her intention is to finish school and become a first-grade teacher. Bravo for her. She also bakes very sought–after cakes at the drop of a hat. And she collects oddballs and pushy men like flypaper.
Her friends in the condo are a real estate agent obsessed with a mystery tenant no one has ever seen and a transplant from the Ozarks who acts like Dolly Parton’s brainless cousin but is writing the sort of genius roman à clef of her own life that is destined for the best seller list. Maybe Evanovich could write a novel with her. A hairy little basket case named Patrick Pugg attaches himself to Cate, intending to be her knight in shining armor and shagmeister. A hunk at the end of the bar is an ex-cop who doesn’t give too many details about his current occupation. A designer-label society dress hanger is a very nasty bitch.
One day the drag queen heads to Aruba, a massive bull mastiff puppy arrives unannounced, Cate can’t shake the shaggy hobbit and the hunk moves in on her. It’s not entirely logical—there is a lot of missing jewelry, some gangsta types that spring up like mushrooms, copious baking, break-ins and breakdowns and a few breakthroughs in the romance department. There’s a certain Keystone Cops flavor to the tale but it does have the requisite stiff and, as you might guess, it’s no one you have to care about.
Crazy, chaotic and cake-filled. The story ends “happily ever after” for some of the characters. The bad guys get theirs—actually almost everybody gets a little by the last page. Pretty funny and as effortlessly entertaining as a decent sitcom. No wonder travelers about to commit themselves to the tortures of modern aviation scarf these books up by the armload. I’d read one on a dismal flight, too. It would probably last from New York to Miami but you’d need at least two for the red eye coast-to-coast.
Hot Stuff Janet Evanovich and Leanne Banks | St. Martin’s Paperbacks 2007