Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Read August 2022
Recommended for people in the 2000s

Back in the day–ie, as they were released–I read all of the Stephanie Plum books. No matter how ridiculous, I could say that they gave me at least one laugh-out-loud moment. So I stuck with the series, at least up until book 20 or so, when I finally tired of the recycled plots and larger-than-life characters. Lately, however, I’ve been needing some low-demand reading, and with a kindle sale on this book, I thought I’d give it a reboot. This one centers on Lulu, Stephanie’s friend and occasional bounty-hunting sidekick, after she witnesses a homicide. Steph is currently in the off-phase of dating Morelli and is back working at Rangeman with his band of merry men.

“I’m feeling grouchy,” I said to Tank.
“Do you want to see a picture of my cat?” Tank asked. “That always makes me happy.”

What can I say? It still makes me laugh. Occasionally Evanovitch is quite clever, such as when Stephanie describes one of her bond skips:

“Myron was seventy-eight years old, and for reasons not given in my file, Myron had robbed his dentist at gunpoint. At first glance, this would seem like an easy apprehension, but my experience with old people is that they don’t go gently into the night.”

And there is a lot of positive female interactions that aren’t just about Stephanie choosing between Joe Morelli or Ranger. Lulu has no problem playing the friend card when she’s under duress:

“He’s a fine man, but he’s the cop representative here, and I need someone from my posse, you see what I’m saying. I need a BFF.”

But there’s also something that had come to bother me about the series, and this book rather epitomizes it. While I get that the characters are all supposed to be gross stereotypes (some literally more gross than others), Lulu in particular is hard done by. I think perhaps because she’s the recurring person of color in the early series, she shoulders some of the most stereotypical stereotypes. Whore with a heart of gold, strong black woman, confident body-positive fat black woman stereotypes. Oh, and talking sort-of-street. When we learn more about Lulu, we learn she’s living in the poorest, roughest part of town. Go ahead, argue with me, but no other group–racial, ethnic, gender–gets the same treatment (although eventually you could make the case that Evanovitch does that to gay people as well). Grandma embodies some similar crazy old stereotypes, but there’s other old people now and then to temper her. Connie may be full-on Italian ‘broad’, but her range of behavior is actually pretty normal. I get that Evanovitch tries very hard to show Lulu in a positive way, but when the range of what we know about Lulu never falls outside those stereotypes, how positive is that, really?

“’I got pictures of him from when he was a customer.’
‘You’d blackmail him?’
‘I like to think of it as reminders of happy times,’ Lula said. ‘No need to negatize it. What happens is, he looks at the picture of himself and thinks bein’ with me was better than a fork in the eye. And then he thinks it’s special if that shit stay between him and me and for instance don’t be seen on YouTube. And then he takes my contest application and gives it the stamp of approval.’”

It kind of reminds me of way-back-when my girl group thought it was ‘funny’ to call each other ‘heifers’ ‘hos’ and ‘bitches.’ Yeah, we did that back then. I think we thought by calling ourselves those names, it takes away the sting. Does it? Or does it teach us casual callousness, thoughtless use of our words, and risk reinforcing labels, however jokingly we use them?

So I don’t know where that leaves me, especially since a lot of this story was about Lulu. Being a thoughtful human is tough, isn’t it?