Trenton, New Jersey's most inept bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, has her plate full with the usual reprobates, rascals, and rats either too lazy, too mean or just plain too stupid to show up for trials. What she doesn't need is a mercy case, completely out of her jurisdiction, to track down the missing daughter and granddaughter of Grandma Mazur's good friend and next door neighbor Mabel. Mabel's daughter, Evelyn, and granddaughter are on the run after skipping a child custody bond taken out by Evelyn's ex under a new law that is supposed to insure against a custodial parent taking off with the child and going into hiding. Unfortunately for Mabel, Evelyn put up her mother's house as collateral for the bond, and now that the two have departed for parts unknown, Mabel is in danger of losing her lifelong home.
Apparently Grandma Mazur's arteries are hardening at a quickening pace --- she is raunchier and more outrageous than ever. She begs Stephanie to help Mabel, so what's a girl to do? There's no pay, she knows nothing about child custody bonds, and as usual, her rent and car payments are due. She reluctantly agrees to ask a few questions, but the more questions she asks, the deeper she is drawn into a situation that appears to find Evelyn and her six-year-old daughter running for their lives.
On the trail of a sociopathic bad guy, Stephanie travels many dark and dangerous byways in HARD EIGHT, taking our heroine to the wall. Evanovich has produced the darkest and most introspective of her reluctant bounty hunter series, which usually finds fans chortling with outrageous glee. Here the laughs are fewer and further apart as Stephanie mulls her future while she is brutalized by her present.
Meanwhile, Stephanie picks up a pathetic mail-order attorney sidekick who owns a laundromat as a sideline. He's not too good at running the laundromat, and terrible at lawyering, but it doesn't stop him from bumbling along and generally getting under Stephanie's feet as she tries to tie together the loose ends of several murders, including finding a dead body on her living room couch. Ever hear of "death cooties?" One of the big laughs in the book.
As often happens in series detective stories, the characters seem to beg their creators to flesh them out, stretch them beyond their early, two dimensional conception. Stephanie's job is becoming more dangerous, and her skills are challenged. She has to learn to shoot, and more importantly, remember to keep more than one bullet in her gun. Is this bounty hunting, or is it detective work?
At a crossroads in her relationships with her two hunky male admirers --- the mysterious and frightening Ranger and long time heart throb Joe Morelli --- it's decision time for Steph, if either of them are still interested. One thing is certain --- book number nine will most certainly seek some resolutions to Stephanie Plum's future.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on June 16, 2003