It is now Chapter Sixteen in the life and times of bounty-hunting Jersey Girl Stephanie Plum. Stephanie began her career out of desperation. After a quickie marriage and divorce, she was still living with her parents at age late-twenty-something. Her job opportunities were so grim that working on an assembly line at the button plant topped, but just barely, operating the deep fryer at Cluck in a Bucket or flipping burgers. Or marriage. And kids and car pools like most of her high school friends. But once was enough, at least for now.
Along comes Cousin Vinnie, whom she had to blackmail to give her a job. He reluctantly hires her as a skip tracer, tracking down people who fail to show up in court. That doesn’t sound so hard --- lots of time out of the office meeting new people, pick up the guy who probably just forgot to check his calendar, take him to the police station, collect the receipt and get paid. It could even be fun. She didn’t know that the other name for skip tracing was bounty hunter, and almost nobody just forgot their court dates.
She soon became recognized as Trenton’s worst bounty hunter, and the only new people she met who she wanted to make friends with were co-workers Lula, Connie and Ranger. Lula is a former hooker who did Vinnie’s filing and was built like a filing cabinet with the top drawer open. Her spandex wardrobe was left over from her nights on the Stark Street hooker stroll and could fit in a fanny pack. Connie was the office manager whose family was connected to the crime families. Ranger was a mysterious, dark, dangerous Cuban former special forces operator (or so people thought) who could melt a woman’s bone marrow with a look. She also runs into Trenton cop Joe Morelli, a former teenage crush from high school, who almost tempts her to pick job option number 5 --- marriage. Not yet.
All of the above job choices are suddenly back in her face when Vinnie is kidnapped and held for ransom for over three-quarter of a million dollars for stiffing his bookie. This is an “or else” deal --- cough up the ransom, growing daily with the interest, or Vinnie dies. The sad part is that nobody cares whether Vinnie comes back or not. He has no friends, no colleagues --- even his wife has declared this as the last straw when she finds out that he was nabbed by his kidnappers with his pants down, up against a wall on the infamous Stark Street hooker stroll.
The only people with any motivation to try to get him back are Stephanie, Lula and Connie, and only because they need a paycheck. The ransom keeps escalating and is over $1,000,000 by the time the ladies start figuring out how to raise it and rescue Vinnie’s pathetic person.
Stephanie has picked up a few pointers along the way from her early hapless attempts as a crusader for justice, so she is better prepared this time to do battle with the bookie. Until she finds out the bookie is only the middle man --- the real kidnapper is a big-time mobster who plays for keeps. Just when our fearless femme trio are ready to stink bomb the mansion where Vinnie is held, a car drives up and fire bombs the place, leaving them trapped in the woods and looking guilty. Definitely a thwarting move, but only one of many before they’re done. And it’s not just cars that get blown up this time around --- a fair amount of Trenton-area high-end real estate ends up in ashes. This time, Stephanie is more than happy to receive Ranger’s help, especially when Vinnie’s office becomes one of the victims of the flame-throwing mobster.
Of course we can count on the continued romantic triangle as Ranger leaves the country on a mysterious pursuit, leaving the door open for Joe once again.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on June 22, 2010