It’s no secret that I was deeply disappointed in Janet Evanovich’s last book, Seven Up, and I swore up and down that I was not going to read Hard Eight. No way, no sir, no how. Then I got an email asking me to review it, and well, I’m not an idiot who’d pass up a free book by a formerly-beloved author. So I said, “Sure, why not?” I am happy to report it looks like Evanovich is back on track.
Plucky heroine Stephanie Plum is not having a good month. For starters, she and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, vice cop Joe Morelli, are currently off-again. She’s having panic attacks about Ranger (co-worker and object of female lust everywhere) coming to collect his one night for helping with an earlier FTA (failure to appear). Not to mention her current FTA can’t seem to stay on his feet, so Stephanie heads home to the Trenton, New Jersey neighborhood affectionately known at the Burg for a home-cooked meal with her family. While she’s there, the next-door-neighbor, Mabel, knocks on the door and says she needs to see Stephanie about a bond question.
Mabel’s grand-daughter Evelyn is recently divorced. Because the judge feared she’d skip town with her daughter, Annie, Evelyn was forced to take out a custody bond, which means that if Evelyn skips town with the kid, the money will be used to hire a P.I. to find her. Evelyn didn’t have the money, so her grandmother Mabel put up her house as collateral. Now Evelyn has, in fact, skipped town, and Mabel’s on the verge of losing her home. Stephanie really doesn’t want to get involved, but it’s the neighborly thing to do. She checks out Evelyn’s home, where she meets Eddie Abruzzi.
Abruzzi has a Napoleon fetish and is criminally insane. Unfortunately Evelyn has something he wants and he thinks Stephanie can find her. Soon Stephanie’s on the run from a killer bunny rabbit, being attacked by geese, followed around by lonely lawyer who looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy, has an FTA stealing her handcuffs, not to mention that she misses Morelli and worries about the impending night with Ranger.
All of our favorite characters are back and in top form. Ranger has stopped being a jerk (well, that was my humble opinion of him in Seven Up) and is back to being the sexy man of mystery we first fell in love with. Morelli is there, despite his better sense, because he’s madly in love with Stephanie and finding it hard to stay away. Lula’s still promising to kick some butt, Grandma Mazur is still driving her family nuts, and Stephanie’s sister Valerie is looking for a job. There are a few new characters, like the aforementioned lonely lawyer, Albert Klougn, but they don’t overwhelm the story and let the regulars take center stage.
Readers must be warned this book isn’t as funny as some of the previous books in the series, and is also much darker in tone, but the story is tighter, and some welcome depth makes it enjoyable. Also, unlike Laurell K. Hamilton, whom I believe copped out when her love-triangle came to a head and introduced a new love interest rather than resolve the set-up, Evanovich goes for broke and gives both Ranger and Morelli fans something to cheer about.
So to sum up: while I would’ve given Seven Up a D for disappointment, I’m giving this one a B for better – way better. It doesn’t have the magic nor the laugh-out-loud moments of One for the Money, but it has several humorous scenes, and allows the characters we’ve grown to love a chance to shine like we knew they could.