7/25/2013 - Belly up to the bar to debate whether Janet Evanovich is more businesswoman than writer, and you’ll be there all night. The 19 mysteries in her best-selling Stephanie Plum series are but the foundation of the empire that shows no sign of decay. Even Evanovich herself seems to defy aging. She’s 70, but look at her photo of the jacket of her latest, and you’ll say, “I’ll have whatever she’s having.” While others her age have senior moments, Evanovich has Benjamin Button years.
The Heist is her latest, co-written with Lee Goldberg, a screenwriter whose credits include a series of novels based on the popular TV show Monk. It’s unclear why a writer of Evanovich’s stature needs a co-writer, except that maybe she has more ideas than time. Multiple writers often lead to multiple headaches for the reader, just as the quality of a film declines in proportion to the screenwriters given credit. But The Heist delivers a seamless and tightly choreographed story that is literary candy: bon mots with bonbons.
Here’s the story: Kate O’Hare is an FBI agent who rocks a bikini, and her foil is Nick Fox, an international con man who bilks people out of their wealth. Fox is not so much a criminal as a good-looking rogue, the kind of guy whose sins are forgiven when he winks. You might as well go ahead and envision George Clooney here, because The Heist is clearly headed to the big screen.
Clooney comes to mind because The Heist is so reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven. O’Hare and Fox, through a convoluted and utterly unbelievable series of events, wind up as partners, fighting crime and mutual attraction.
For the crime part, they have to assemble a team of winsome misfits to assist in an elaborate con, bringing down an even bigger bilker and fraud, and herein is the only place the story drags. Otherwise, it’s a happy, snappy romp that occasionally educates while it entertains.
Ever heard of Mount Athos? It’s a peninsular mountain in Greece, home to 2,000 monks and hermits, no women allowed. How about Fassbender & Rausch, the Berlin chocolatier? In The Heist, you’ll learn about it, and the anti-Bali parts of Indonesia, and enjoy a quick study of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King.
This is a frothy book, no deeper than a child’s plastic wading pool, but it’s written by smart people who disarm critics as easily as Nick Fox can escape a band of murderous pirates without breaking a sweat. You know you’re being conned — Fox and (O’)Hare, really? — but it’s all in fun, and nobody really gets hurt thanks to the availability of exploding fake-blood packs; more characters sustain serious injury at Wonka’s chocolate factor than here. In fact, the entire plot seems little more than a platform on which O’Hare and Fox exchange flirty witticisms.
There’s an even more adorable relationship here, though, which is that between O’Hare and her dad, Jake, a widower and former Marine “who can kill a man sixteen different ways with an eyebrow tweezer.” Jake O’Hare wasn’t there much for his daughters while they were growing up, but he’s making up for lost time now and is available to help his daughter parachute onto Greek mountains or bust out from jail as necessary.
One of Fox and O’Hare’s crew, a bleached-blonde commando with double-D implants, divorced her husband for “terminal boredom.” The central characters in this book would never befall such a fate. If anything, they’re just terminally perky, and it’s clear that their collective fates will never be unpleasant.
We will not, however, know their fates for a very long time, as this is the first book in a series, already billed as “The Fox and O’Hare Novels” even though there’s only one novel to date. (Although, ever the businesswoman, Evanovich is selling an e-reader prequel to The Heist, a short story titled “Pros and Cons,” for 99 cents.)
If you love Stephanie Plum and the mystery genre, you’ll probably love The Heist. If your idea of a good summertime read is The Gulag Archipelago, steer clear. For the genre, it’s perfection, but as the rustic sign says, it is what it is. B- — Jennifer Graham