“You are a train wreck.” It was the second time in two days that Stephanie had heard it. This time it was in the ER from the doc who was mopping up the blood and icing down the cuts and abrasions. Talk about a wake-up call.
Stephanie Plum, Newark bail bond agent, had recently returned from a disastrous Hawaiian holiday with nothing but bad memories. Her personal and professional lives were a mess, and a glaringly white streak on her suntanned left ring finger is causing all kinds of questions from friends and family. “It’s complicated” is her only mumbled response.
"Stephanie comes of age in EXPLOSIVE EIGHTEEN. Her survival skills have consistently improved since her early days as an accident-prone bounty hunter."
It gets more complicated after she unpacks and finds a plain brown envelope in her briefcase containing an 8x10 photo of a nice-looking stranger on a street corner. No name, no date, not a clue as to who he is. She doesn’t know how the photo got there, so she tosses it in the trash at her parents’ house. When she catches a TV news report about a Newark man whose body was found stuffed into a trash barrel at LAX, the TV image looks familiar. It’s not the man in the discarded photo, but it looks like the guy who sat next to her from Honolulu to LA. He had left the plane during refueling in Los Angeles and didn’t return to his seat when they took off. She finds it curious, but she has more immediate personal problems to contend with, so she forgets about it.
Not for long, though. Suddenly it seems everybody wants to get their hands on that envelope. She checks with her mom to look through the trash, but it’s already been hauled to the landfill. Nobody believes she doesn’t have it. The FBI and an odd assortment of third world thugs are hot on her trail. Even a hairdresser with a .38 Saturday night special are pointing guns at her. Finally, the FBI persuades her to work with a sketch artist to reconstruct the face of the man in the picture. Her first attempt looks like Tom Cruise and her next try resembles Ashton Kutcher. Two phony FBI agents and a crazed assassin use more violent means of persuasion, which lead to car chases, foot races, and assorted weapons, some of mass destruction. And to the ER.
Stephanie comes of age in EXPLOSIVE EIGHTEEN. Her survival skills have consistently improved since her early days as an accident-prone bounty hunter. No longer is she the bumbling novice who stumbles into danger to be saved by Morelli and Ranger. When she fights off an insane Middle Eastern terrorist in the FBI underground parking garage after meeting with the sketch artist, the attack is caught on camera. The terrorist is known for dismembering his victims after forcing them into his van at the point of a knife. She views the footage with the two agents she’s been working with, and when they observe her subdue the madman, they view her with awe, respect and perhaps a little fear. She was just scared and mad, she explains. When the footage is shared with local police, word gets around that she’s not to be messed with; even Ranger and Morelli approach with caution.
Meanwhile, Vinnie’s bond company is still camped out in a motor home while their new office building is being erected across the street. Morelli is knee deep in homicide investigations, Ranger is doing whatever it is that Ranger does while keeping tabs on Stephanie, Lula is eating her way through Trenton, and Stephanie has sworn off men.
It’s not a spoiler to say that only one car, belonging to Stephanie's nemesis, Joyce Barnhardt, is destroyed in the making of this book, and Stephanie never came near it. However, what Lula can do with what she has stowed in the trunk of her Firebird would be a spoiler, so we’ll spare the details.
Stephanie is finally pulling it together. She is still funny, but doesn’t put up with as much of Lula’s nonsense as she used to. Yet, while trying to figure out who she really is, she’s still hopelessly confused about her feelings for the two men in her life. True to form, Ranger has armed her with a loaded 9 mm Glock and a wristwatch GPS tracker, and Morelli can still disarm her with his charm.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 1, 2011