Hard Eight (Stephanie Plum Series #8)

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Overview

Hard Up

Fugitive Apprehension Agent Stephanie Plum has a big problem on her hands: Seven-year-old Annie Soder and her mother, Evelyn, have disappeared. Evelyn's estranged husband, Steven, a shady owner of a seedy bar, is not at all happy. Finding a kidnapped child is not an assignment for a bounty hunter. But Evelyn's grandmother lives next door to Stephanie's parents, so Stephanie follows the trail left by ...

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Hard Eight (Stephanie Plum Series #8)

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Overview

Hard Up

Fugitive Apprehension Agent Stephanie Plum has a big problem on her hands: Seven-year-old Annie Soder and her mother, Evelyn, have disappeared. Evelyn's estranged husband, Steven, a shady owner of a seedy bar, is not at all happy. Finding a kidnapped child is not an assignment for a bounty hunter. But Evelyn's grandmother lives next door to Stephanie's parents, so Stephanie follows the trail left by Annie and Evelyn-and finds a lot more than she bargained for.

Hard Risk

Steven Soder is somehow linked with a very scary Eddie Abruzzi. Trenton cop and on-again, off-again fiancé Joe Morelli and Stephanie's mentor and tormentor, Ranger, warn Stephanie about Abruzzi, but it's Abruzzi's eyes and mannerisms that frighten Stephanie most. Stephanie needs Ranger's savvy and expertise, and she's willing to accept his help to find Annie even though it might mean getting too involved with Ranger. Stephanie, Ranger, Lula (who's not going to miss riding with Ranger), and Evelyn's lawyer/Laundromat manager set out to find Annie. The search turns out to be a race among Stephanie's posse, the True Blue Bonds' agent-a Rangerette known as Jeanne Ellen Burrows-and the Abruzzi crew. Plus, there's a killer rabbit on the loose!

Hard Eight

Strap on your helmet and get ready for the ride of your life! Hard Eight. The world of Stephanie Plum has never been wilder.

"Evanovich does it again, delivering an even more suspenseful and more outrageous turn with the unstoppable Stephanie."

-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The things Evanovich does so well-family angst, sweet eroticism, stealth shopping, that stunning mix of terror and hilarity-are done better than ever here."

-Booklist (starred review)

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Far and away our customers' favorite recurring detective in any series, rough-and-tumble Jersey girl Stephanie Plum sizzles in her eighth surefire novel. In this case, the stakes (both romantic and professional) get higher, the crimes get nastier, and the chases get even faster!
From the Publisher
"Keeps up Evanovich's standards for over-the-top situations" -Chicago Tribune

"[A] must read...readers will want to finish this delightful work in one sitting."—Midwest Book Review

"Offers the best action yet."-Newark Star-Ledger

"The girl mercenary is as fresh as ever." -People

"Hard Eight is most emphatically not Raymond Chandler but, like his work, a piece of finely crafted prose." -San Francisco Chronicle

"Plum is one of fiction's most irresistible heroines."-Seattle Post Intelligencer

"Evanovich has certainly come a long way since One for the Money; her latest Stephanie Plum mystery merits a one-day national laydown on June 18."—Library Journal

"Well plotted and cleverly resolved...her wickedly funny characterizations and the intriguing love triangle are what keep her readers coming back for more."-Bookpage

"As close to summer escapism as you can get. Evanovich hits a high note with her newest...a great addition to a well-stocked beach bag."-Houston Chronicle

"A perfect summer vacation book...promises fun, laughter, and unforgettable characters...Evanovich delivers."-Tennessean (Nashville, TN)

"Thrills mixed with lust, seasoned with humor: a delightful escape."-News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

"Evanovich produces more than "beach reading". She writes rollicking, raunchy, hysterical fiction that is so real, you will laugh out loud and want to visit the Burg."-Rockwall County News

"Just when you think the adventures of Plum and company can't get any funnier or more convoluted, Janet Evanovich proves you wrong-nobody does it better!" -Romantic Times

People Magazine
a hilarious and frenetic detective romp...the girl mercenary is as fresh as ever.
Publishers Weekly
The menace is more personal for Trenton's favorite bounty hunter and the energy more manic in this latest outing than in last year's Seven Up. As a favor to her mother's next-door neighbor, Mabel Markowitz, Stephanie agrees to check up on the lady's granddaughter, evelyn Soder, who has suddenly taken off with her little girl, Annie, leaving behind a child custody bond against Mabel's house. The son-in-law is a bad guy who lost his bar to eddie Abruzzi, a very nasty character who owns evelyn's building. Soon someone in a bunny suit is trailing Stephanie, her car is blown up, her apartment infiltrated and a dead body appears on her couch. She calls in her associate, Ranger, the gorgeous and mysterious Cuban bond agent, while her sometime boyfriend, Morelli the cop, also gets on the case - a real doozy for which she's not getting paid. On the home front, ever-raunchy Grandma Mazur is eager to assist. Sister Valerie and kids have moved back in as well, so there's nowhere but the couch for Stephanie and one bathroom for all. Valerie is inexplicably attracted to evelyn's goofy lawyer, who's been tagging along with Stephanie and the ever-outrageous file clerk and ex-hooker Lula, further complicating this twisted case. Life in the Burg takes on a sinister turn with serious results. evanovich does it again, delivering an even more suspenseful and more outrageous turn with the unstoppable Stephanie, heroine of all those who have to live on peanut butter until the next check comes through. Waiting for nine will be tough. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Stephanie Plum is at it again, in true Jersey style. Lula, Ranger, Joe Morelli, and the rest of the crazy cast all return along with some new characters, such as a lawyer named Klaughn (sounds like Clown) who is dating Stephanie's sister and trying to be her partner in the bail bondsman business. This is Evanovich's eighth outing (following Seven Up) into north Jersey with Stephanie and her crew, and it is just as funny and exciting as the others. In this adventure, Stephanie needs to find a missing mother and child, which leads her into all kinds of predicaments with a life-size rabbit out to kill her and a crazy mobster with a Napoleon complex. On top of the dangerous threats to her life and her new Honda CRV, Stephanie is also on the outs with long-term beau Morelli and on sexy Ranger's to-do list. Whatever can a Jersey girl do? Maybe go shopping and eat some donuts. This is great summer reading. Recommended for all public libraries. - Marianne Fitzgerald, Media Specialist, CMS, Charlotte, NC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Stephanie Plum, Trenton's dizziest, most dysfunctional skip tracer, has papers on a couple of wacko Failure to Appears, but fat Marty Paulson and skinny Andy Bender are humdrum bizarros compared to the sociopath about to enter her life: loan shark/murderer Eddie Abruzzo, whom Steph perceives as a "total fruitcake" the instant her fear and trembling subside. "I know how to make women uncomfortable," he tells her, and does she ever believe him. Next to torturing and killing, military history is Eddie's driving passion, and now his authentic Napoleon medal has gone missing. When he becomes convinced on flimsy evidence that if Steph doesn't have the medal, she knows who does, she finds herself in a war of nerves with an implacable enemy who's part Clausewitz and part clown, from sorties by Abruzzi soldiers in the masks of ex-presidents to an attack by a homicidal rabbit-a hit man winsomely decked out in a bunny suit, from whom Steph escapes when Mama Plum, rising to the moment, counterattacks furiously in the family Buick. Meanwhile, Steph's love life remains unresolved as slinky colleague Ranger Manoso and hunky detective Joe Morelli continue their kinky game of ping-pong-Plum with Lady Bounty Hunter getting paddled. Watch out for plot holes big enough to drive that Buick through. True, charm has always been more important than plot to this series, but in her eighth trip to the plate (Seven-Up), Steph's ditzy allure may be withering before the curse of familiarity. For loyalists only.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312983864
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/16/2003
  • Series: Stephanie Plum Series , #8
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 72,802
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet  Evanovich

Janet Evanovich is the author of the Stephanie Plum books, including One for the Money and Sizzling Sixteen, and the Diesel & Tucker series, including Wicked Appetite. Janet studied painting at Douglass College, but that art form never quite fit, and she soon moved on to writing stories. She didn’t have instant success: she collected a big box of rejection letters. As she puts it, “When the box was full I burned the whole damn thing, crammed myself into pantyhose and went to work for a temp agency.” But after a few months of secretarial work, she managed to sell her first novel for $2,000. She immediately quit her job and started working full-time as a writer. After 12 romance novels, she switched to mystery, and created Stephanie Plum. The rest is history. Janet’s favorite exercise is shopping, and her drug of choice is Cheeze Doodles. She and her husband live in New Hampshire, in house with a view of the Connecticut River Valley.

Biography

When plucky Stephanie Plum lost her job as a lingerie buyer, she had little other choice than to take a position working for her cousin Vinnie's bail-bonds office where she'd spend her days and nights hunting down fugitives, solving mysteries, and falling ass-backwards into adventure. Come to think of it, Ms. Plum has more than a little in common with her creator Janet Evanovich.

Much like the panty-pushing Plum, Evanovich once made her trade in erotica as a romance novelist for the trashy Bantam series "Loveswept." Tiring of the genre and finding herself increasingly fixated on crime, mystery, and the kind of adventures she came to love through comic books like Uncle Scrooge, she decided to ditch steamy stories in favor of off-the-wall humor and feats of daring. As Evanovich said on her website, "after twelve romance novels I ran out of sexual positions and decided to move into the mystery genre."

The resulting Stephanie Plum Mysteries reflect Evanovich's love for comics, toys, shoe-shopping, Cheez Doodles, and beer. Evanovich also created a memorable character that shares many of the author's distinctive traits, such as her self-effacing, dirty-minded wit. The Plum Mysteries, while often rambling and thin on plot, are never anything less than entertaining, hilarious, and refreshing in every way.

Stephanie Plum made her debut in 1994's One For the Money, in which she tracked down Joe Morelli, an ex-cop and murder suspect who'd also been guilty of taking Stephanie's virginity when she was 18. The novel's sly mix of sexiness and childlike playfulness made for a sort of young adult novel for adults.

Since then, the red-hot bounty hunter and a crew of misfits that includes retired hooker Lula, aging bail-jumper Eddie Decooch, and Plum's own hipster granny have romped their way "through the numbers," establishing Evanovich as one of the best and most inventive writers of "Strong Woman" mysteries and guaranteeing her a place on the New York Times bestseller list.

In 2004, Evanovich introduced a smart, savvy new series featuring Alexander "Barney" Barnaby, a sexy Baltimore car mechanic, NASCAR nut, and amateur sleuth with her own posse of delightful eccentrics. She's not Plum, but she's definitely a peach. Hey, what else would you expect from a Janet Evanovich heroine?

Good To Know

Evanovich's motorcycle-riding daughter Alex has created an online comic about her hamster called "Batster," which her mother proudly displays on her web site. With episodes like "Batster vs. Beerzilla," it's clear that wackiness runs in the Evanovich genes.

If you think the Stephanie Plum novels are zany, wait till you hear about what Evanovich was writing before she started getting published. As she explains on her web site, "The first story [I ever wrote] was about the pornographic adventures of a fairy who lived in a second rate fairy forest in Pennsylvania."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Steffie Hall
    2. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 22, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      South River, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., Douglass College, 1965
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time rolling on the ground with men who think a stiffy represents personal growth. The rolling around has nothing to do with my sex life. The rolling around is what happens when a bust goes crapolla and there's a last ditch effort to hog tie a big, dumb bad guy possessing a congenitally defective frontal lobe.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I'm in the fugitive apprehension business ...bond enforcement, to be exact, working for my cousin Vincent Plum. It wouldn't be such a bad job except the direct result of bond enforcement is usually incarceration -and fugitives tend to not like this. Go figure. To encourage fugitive cooperation on the way back to the pokey I usually persuade the guys I capture to wear handcuffs and leg shackles. This works pretty good most of the time. And if done right, cuts back on the rolling around on the ground stuff.

Unfortunately, today wasn't most of the time. Martin Paulson, weighing in at 350 pounds and standing 5'8" tall, was arrested for credit card fraud and for being a genuinely obnoxious person. He failed to show for his court appearance last week, and this put Martin on my Most Wanted List. Since Martin is not too bright, he hadn't been too hard to find. Martin had, in fact, been at home engaged in what he does best ...stealing merchandise off the internet. I'd managed to get Martin into cuffs and leg shackles and into my car. I'd even managed to drive Martin to the police station on North Clinton Avenue. Unfortunately, when I attempted to get Martin out of my car he'd tipped over and was now rollingaround on his belly, trussed up like a Christmas goose, unable to right himself.

We were in the parking lot adjacent to the municipal building. The back door leading to the docket lieutenant was less than fifty feet away. I could call for help, but I'd be the brunt of cop humor for days. I could unlock the cuffs or ankle shackles, but I didn't trust Paulson. He was royally pissed-off, red-faced and swearing, making obscene threats and horrifying animal sounds.

I was standing there, watching Paulson struggle, wondering what the hell I was going to do, because anything short of a fork-lift wasn't going to get Paulson up off the pavement. And just then, Joe Juniak pulled into the lot. Juniak is a former police chief and is now mayor of n0 Trenton. He's a couple years older than me and about a foot taller. Juniak's second cousin, Ziggy, is married to my cousin-in-law Gloria Jean. So we're sort of family ...in a remote way.

The driver side window slid down, and Juniak grinned at me, cutting his eyes to Paulson. "Is he yours?"

"Yep."

"He's illegally parked. His ass is over the white line."

I toed Paulson, causing him to start rocking again. "He's stuck."

Juniak got out of his car and hauled Paulson up by his armpits. "You don't mind if I embellish this story when I spread it all over town, do you?"

"I do mind! Remember, I voted for you," I said. "And we're almost related."

"Not gonna help you, cutie. Cops live for stuff like this."

"You're not a cop anymore."

"Once a cop, always a cop."

Paulson and I watched Juniak get back into his car and drive away.

"I can't walk in these things," Paulson said, looking down at the shackles. "I'm gonna fall over again. I haven't got a good sense of balance."

"Have you ever heard the bounty hunter slogan bring ëem back —dead or alive?"

"Sure."

"Don't tempt me."

Actually, bringing someone back dead is a big no-no, but this seemed like a good time to make an empty threat. It was late afternoon. It was spring. And I wanted to get on with my life. Spending another hour coaxing Paulson to walk across the parking lot wasn't high on my list of favored things to do.

I wanted to be on a beach somewhere with the sun blistering my skin until I looked like a fried pork rind. Okay, truth is at this time of year that might have to be Cancun, and Cancun didn't figure into my budget. Still the point was, I didn't want to be here in this stupid parking lot with Paulson.

"You probably don't even have a gun," Paulson said.

"Hey give me a break. I haven't got all day for this. I have other things to do."

"Like what?"

cf0"None of your business."

"Hah! You haven't got anything better to do."

I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and black Caterpillar boots, and I had a real urge to kick him in the back of his leg with my size seven Cat.

"Tell me," he said.

"I promised my parents I'd be home for dinner at six."

Paulson burst out laughing. "That's pathetic. That's fucking pathetic." The laughter turned into a coughing fit, Paulson leaned forward, wobbled side to side and fell over. I reached for him, but it was too late. He was back on his belly, doing his beached whale imitation.

*

• *

My parents live in a narrow duplex in a chunk of Trenton called the Burg. If the Burg was a food, it would be pasta —penne rigate, ziti, fettuccine, spaghetti, and elbow macaroni, swimming in marinara, cheese sauce or mayo. Good, dependable, all-occasion food that puts a smile on your face and fat on your butt. The Burg is a solid neighborhood where people buy houses and live in them until death kicks them out. Backyards are used to run a clothesline, store the garbage can and give the dog a place to poop. No fancy backyard decks and gazebos for Burgers. Burgers sit on their small front porches and cement stoops. The better to see the world go by.

I rolled in just as my mother was pulling the roast chicken out of the oven. My father was already in his seat at the head of the table. He stared straight ahead, eyes glazed, thoughts in limbo, knife and fork in hand. My sister Valerie, who had recently moved back home after leaving her husband, was at work whipping potatoes in the kitchen. When we were kids Valerie was the perfect daughter. And I was the daughter who stepped in dog poo, sat on gum, and constantly fell off the garage roof in an attempt to fly. As a last ditch effort to preserve her marriage, Valerie had traded in her Italian-Hungarian genes and turned herself into Meg Ryan. The marriage failed, but the blond Meg shag persists.

Valerie's kids were at the table with my dad. The nine year old, Angie, was sitting primly with her hands folded, resigned to enduring the meal, an almost perfect clone of Valerie at that age. The seven year old, Mary Alice, the kid from hell, had two sticks poked into her brown hair.

"What's with the sticks?" I asked.

"They not sticks. They're antlers. I'm a reindeer."

This was a surprise because usually she's a horse.

"How was your day?" Grandma asked me, setting a bowl of green beans on the table. "Did you shoot anybody? Did you capture any bad guys?"

Grandma Mazur moved in with my parents shortly after my Grandpa Mazur took his fat clogged arteries to the all-you-can-eat buffet in the sky. Grandma's in her mid-seventies and doesn't look a day over ninety. Her body is aging, but her mind seems to be going in the opposite direction. She was wearing white tennis shoes and a lavender polyester warm-up suit. Her steel gray hair was cut short and permed to within an inch of its life. Her nails were painted lavender to match the suit.

"I didn't shoot anybody today," I said, "but I brought in a guy wanted for credit card fraud."

There was a knock at the front door, and Mabel Markowitz stuck her head in and called, "Yoohoo".

My parents live in a two family duplex. They own the south half, and Mabel Markowitz owns the north half, the house divided by a common wall and years of disagreement over house paint. Out of necessity, Mabel's made thrift a religious experience, getting by on social security and government surplus peanut butter. Her husband, Izzy, was a good man but drank himself into an early grave. Mabel's only daughter died of uterine cancer a year ago. The son-in-law died a month later in a car crash.

All forward progress stopped at the table, and everyone looked to the front door, because in all the years Mabel had lived next door, she'd never once yoohooed while we were eating.

"I hate to disturb your meal," Mabel said. "I just wanted to ask Stephanie if she'd have a minute to stop over, later. I have a question about this bond business. It's for a friend."

"Sure," I said. "I'll be over after dinner." I imagined it would be a short conversation since everything I knew about bond could be said in two sentences.

Mabel left and Grandma leaned forward, elbows on the table. "I bet that's a lot of hooey about wanting advice for a friend. I bet Mabel's been busted."

Everyone simultaneously rolled their eyes at Grandma.

"Okay then," she said. "Maybe she wants a job. Maybe she wants to be a bounty hunter. You know how she's always squeaking by."

My father shoveled food into his mouth, keeping his head down. He reached for the potatoes and spooned seconds onto his plate. "Christ," he mumbled.

i0"If there's anyone in that family who would need a bail bond, it would be Mabel's ex-grandson-in-law," my mother said. "He's mixed up with some bad people these days. Evelyn was smart to divorce him."

"Yeah, and that divorce was real nasty," Grandma said to me. "Almost as nasty as yours."

"I set a high standard."

"You were a pip," Grandma said.

My mother did another eye roll. "It was a disgrace."

*

• *

Mabel Markowitz lives in a museum. She married in 1943 and still has her first table lamp, her first pot, her first chrome and Formica kitchen table. Her living room was newly wallpapered in 1957. The flowers have faded but the paste has held. The carpet is dark oriental. The upholstered pieces sag slightly in the middle, imprinted with asses that have since moved on ...either to God or Hamilton Township.

Certainly the furniture doesn't bear the imprint of Mabel's ass as Mabel is a walking skeleton who never sits. Mabel bakes and cleans and paces while she talks on the phone. Her eyes are bright, and she laughs easily, slapping her thigh, wiping her hands on her apron. Her hair is thin and grey, cut short and curled. Her face is powdered first thing in the morning to a chalky white. Her lipstick is pink and applied hourly, feathering out into the deep crevices that line her mouth.

"Stephanie," she said, "how nice to see you. Come in. I have a coffee cake."

Mrs. Markowitz always has a coffee cake. That's the way it is in the Burg. Windows are clean, cars are big and there's always a coffee cake.

I took a seat at the kitchen table. "The truth is, I don't know very much about bond. My cousin Vinnie is the bond expert."

"It's not so much about bond," Mabel said. "It's more about finding someone. And I fibbed about it being for a friend. I was embarrassed. I just don't know how to even begin telling you this."

Mabel's eyes filled with tears. She cut a piece of coffee cake and shoved it into her mouth. Angry. Mabel wasn't the sort of woman to comfortably fall victim to emotion. She washed the coffee cake down with coffee that was strong enough to dissolve a spoon if you let it sit in the cup too long. Never accept coffee from Mrs. Markowitz.

"I guess you know Evelyn's marriage didn't work out. She and Steven got a divorce awhile back, and it was pretty bitter," Mabel finally said.

Evelyn is Mabel's granddaughter. I've known Evelyn all my life, but we were never close friends. She lived several blocks away, and she went to Catholic school. Our paths only intersected on Sundays when she'd come to dinner at Mabel's house. Valerie and I called her The Giggler because she giggled at everything. She'd come over to play board games in her Sunday clothes, and she'd giggle when she rolled the dice, giggle when she moved her piece, giggle when she lost. She giggled so much she got dimples. And when she got older, she was one of those girls that boys love. Evelyn was all round softness and dimples and vivacious energy.

I hardly ever saw Evelyn any more, but when I did there wasn't much vivacious energy left in her.

Mabel pressed her thin lips together. "There was so much arguing and hard feelings over the divorce that the judge made Evelyn take out one of these new child custody bonds. I guess he was afraid Evelyn wouldn't let Steven see Annie. Anyway, Evelyn didn't have any money to put up for the bond. Steven took the money that Evelyn got when my daughter died, and he never gave Evelyn anything. Evelyn was like a prisoner in that house on Key Street. I'm almost the only relative left for Evelyn and Annie now, so I put my house here up for collateral. Evelyn wouldn't have gotten custody if I didn't do that."

This was all new to me. I'd never heard of a custody bond. The people I tracked down were in violation of a bail bond.

Mabel wiped the table clean of crumbs and dumped the crumbs in the sink. Mabel wasn't good at sitting. "It was all just fine until last week when I got a note from Evelyn, saying she and Annie were going away for awhile. I didn't think much of it, but all of a sudden everyone is looking for Annie. Steven came to my house a couple days ago, raising his voice and saying terrible things about Evelyn. He said she had no business taking Annie off like she did, taking her away from him and taking her out of first grade. And he said he was invoking the custody bond. And then this morning I got a phone call from the bond company telling me they were going to take my house if I didn't help them get Annie back."

Mabel looked around her kitchen. "I don't know what I'd do without the house. Can they really take it from me?"

"I don't know," I told Mabel. "I've never been involved in anything like this."

"And now they all got me worried. How do I know if Evelyn and Annie are okay? I don't have any way of getting in touch. And it was just a note. It wasn't even like I talked to Evelyn."

Mabel's eyes filled up again, and I was really hoping she wasn't going to flat-out cry because I wasn't great with big displays of emotion. My mother and I expressed affection through veiled compliments about gravy.

"I feel just terrible," Mabel said. "I don't know what to do. I thought maybe you could find Evelyn and talk to her ...make sure her and Annie are all right. I could put up with losing the house, but I don't want to lose Evelyn and Annie. I've got some money set aside. I don't know how much you charge for this sort of thing."

"I don't charge anything. I'm not a private investigator. I don't take on private cases like this." Hell, I'm not even a very good bounty hunter!

Mabel picked at her apron, tears rolling down her cheeks, now. "I don't know who else to ask."

Oh man, I don't believe this. Mabel Markowitz, crying! This was at about the same comfort level as getting a gyno exam in the middle of Main Street at high noon.

"Okay," I said. "I'll see what I can do ...as a neighbor."

Mabel nodded and wiped her eyes. "I'd appreciate it." She took an envelope from the sideboard. "I have a picture for you. It's Annie and Evelyn. It was taken last year when Annie turned seven. And I wrote Evelyn's address on a piece of paper for you, too. And her car and license plate."

"Do you have a key to her house?"

"No," Mabel said. "She never gave me one."

"Do you have any ideas about where Evelyn might have gone? Anything at all?"

Mabel shook her head. "I can't imagine where she's taken off to. She grew up here in the Burg. Never lived any place else. Didn't go away to college. Most all our relatives are right here."

"Did Vinnie write the bond?"

"No. It's some other company. I wrote it down." She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "It's True Blue Bonds, and the man's name is Les Sebring."

My cousin Vinnie owns Vincent Plum Bail Bonds and runs his business out of a small storefront office on Hamilton Avenue. A while back when I'd been desperate for a job I'd sort of blackmailed Vinnie into taking me on. The Trenton economy has since improved, and I'm not sure why I'm still working for Vinnie, except that the office is across from a bakery.

Sebring has offices downtown, and his operation makes Vinnie's look like chump change. I've never met Sebring but I've heard stories. He's supposed to be extremely professional. And he's rumored to have legs second only to Tina Turner.

I gave Mabel an awkward hug, told her I'd look into things for her, and I left.

My mother and my grandmother were waiting for me. They were at my parent's front door with the door cracked an inch, their noses pressed to the glass.

"Pssst," my grandmother said. "Hurry up over here. We're dying."

"I can't tell you," I said.

Both women sucked in air. This went against the code of the Burg. In the Burg, blood was always thicker than water. Professional ethics didn't count for much when held up to a juicy piece of gossip among family members.

"Okay," I said, ducking inside. "I might as well tell you. You'll find out anyway." We rationalize a lot in the Burg, too. "When Evelyn got divorced she had to take out something called a child custody bond. Mabel put her house up as collateral. Now Evelyn and Annie are off somewhere, and Mabel is getting pressured by the bond company."

"Oh my goodness," my mother said. "I had no idea."

"Mabel is worried about Evelyn and Annie. Evelyn sent her a note and said she and Annie were going away for a while, but Mabel hasn't heard from them since."

"If I was Mabel I'd be worried about her house," Grandma said. "Sounds to me like she could be living in a cardboard box under the railroad bridge."

"I told her I'd help her, but this isn't really my thing. I'm not a private investigator."

"Maybe you could get your friend Ranger to help her," Grandma said. "That might be better anyway, on account of he's hot. I wouldn't mind having him hang around the neighborhood."

Ranger is more associate than friend. Although, I guess friendship is mixed in there somehow, too. Plus a scary sexual attraction. A few months ago we made a deal that has haunted me. Another one of those jumping off the garage roof things, except this deal involved my bedroom. Ranger is Cuban-American with skin the color of a mocha latte, heavy on the mocha, and a body that can best be described as yum. He's got a big-time stock portfolio, an endless inexplicable supply of expensive black cars, and skills that make Rambo look like an amateur. I'm pretty sure he only kills bad guys, and I think he might be able to fly like Superman. Although, the flying part has never been confirmed. Ranger works in bond enforcement, among other things. And Ranger always gets his man.

My black Honda CRV was parked curbside. Grandma walked me to the car. "Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help," she said. "I always thought I'd make a good detective on account of I'm so nosey."

"Maybe you could ask around the neighborhood."

"You bet. And I could go to Stiva's tomorrow. Charlie Shleckner is laid out. I hear Stiva did a real good job on him."

New York has Lincoln Center. Florida has Disney World. The Burg has Stiva's Funeral Parlor. Not only is Stiva's the premier entertainment facility for the Burg, it's also the nerve center of the news network. If you can't get the dirt on someone at Stiva's, then there isn't any dirt to get.

*

• *

It was still early when I left Mabel's, so I drove past Evelyn's house on Key Street. It was a two family house very much like my parents. Small front yard, small front porch, small two story house. No sign of life in Evelyn's half. No car parked in front. No lights shining behind drawn drapes. According to Grandma Mazur, Evelyn had lived in the house when she'd been married to Steven Soder and had stayed there with Annie when Soder moved out. Eddie Abruzzi owns the property and rents out both units. Abruzzi owns several houses in the Burg and a couple large office buildings in downtown Trenton. I don't know him personally, but I've heard he's not the world's nicest guy.

I parked and walked to Evelyn's front porch. I rapped lightly on her door. No answer. I tried to peek in the front window, but the drapes were drawn tight. I walked around the side of the house and stood on tippy toes, looking in. No luck with the side windows in the front room and dining room, but my snoopiness paid off with the kitchen. No curtains drawn in the kitchen. There were two cereal bowls and two glasses on the counter next to the sink. Everything else seemed tidy. No sign of Evelyn or Annie. I returned to the front and knocked on the neighbor's door.

The door opened, and Carol Balog looked out at me.

"Stephanie!" she said. "How the hell are you?"

I went to school with Carol. She got a job at the button factory when we graduated and two months later married Lenny Balog. Once in a while I run into her at Giovichinni's Deli but beyond that we've lost touch.

"I didn't realize you were living here," I said. "I was looking for Evelyn."

Carol did an eyeroll. "Everyone's looking for Evelyn. And to tell you the truth, I hope no one finds her. Except for you, of course. Those other jerks I wouldn't wish on anyone."

"What other jerks?"

"Her ex-husband and his friends. And the landlord, Abruzzi and his goons."

"You and Evelyn were close?"

"As close as anyone could get to Evelyn. We moved here two years ago, before the divorce. She'd spend all day popping pills and then drink herself into a stupor at night."

"What kind of pills?"

"Prescription. For depression, I think. Understandable, since she was married to Soder. Do you know him?"

"Not well." I met Steven Soder for the first time at Evelyn's wedding, nine years ago, and I took an instant dislike to him. In my brief dealings with him over the following years I found nothing to change my original bad impression.

"He's a real manipulative bastard. And abusive," Carol said.

"He'd hit her?"

"Not that I know. Just mental abuse. I could hear him yelling at her all the time. Telling her she was stupid. She was kind of heavy, and he used to call her the cow. Then one day he moved out and moved in with some other woman. Joanne Something. Evelyn's lucky day."

"Do you think Evelyn and Annie are safe?"

"God, I hope so. Those two deserve a break."

I looked over at Evelyn's front door. "I don't suppose you have a key?"

Carol shook her head. "Evelyn didn't trust anyone. She was real paranoid. I don't think her grandma even has a key. And she didn't tell me where she was going, if that's your next question. One day she just loaded a bunch of bags into her car and took off."

I gave Carol my card and headed for home. I live in a three story brick apartment building about ten minutes from the Burg ...five if I'm late for dinner and I hit the lights right. The building was constructed at a time when energy was cheap and architecture was inspired by economy. My bathroom is orange and brown, my refrigerator is avocado green and my windows were born before Thermopane. Fine by me. The rent is reasonable, and the other tenants are okay. Mostly the building is inhabited by seniors on fixed incomes. The seniors are, for the most, part nice people ...as long as you don't let them get behind the wheel of a car.

I parked in the lot and pushed through the double glass door that led to the small lobby. I was filled with chicken and potatoes and gravy and chocolate layer cake and Mabel's coffee cake, so I bypassed the elevator and took the stairs as penance. All right, so I'm only one flight up, but it's a start, right?

My hamster, Rex, was waiting for me when I opened the door to my apartment. Rex lives in a soup can in a glass aquarium in my kitchen. He stopped running on his wheel when I switched the light on and blinked out at me, whiskers whirring. I like to think it was welcome home but probably it was who put the damn light on? I gave him a raisin and a small piece of cheese. He stuffed the food into his cheeks and disappeared into his soup can. So much for room mate interaction.

In the past, Rex has sometimes shared his room mate status with a Trenton cop named Joe Morelli. Morelli's two years older than I am, half a foot taller, and his gun is bigger than mine. Morelli started looking up my skirt when I was seven, and he's just never gotten out of the habit. We've had some differences of opinion lately, and Morelli's toothbrush is not currently in my bathroom. Unfortunately, it's a lot harder to get Morelli out of my heart and my mind than out of my bathroom. Nevertheless, I'm making an effort.

I got a beer from the fridge and settled in front of the television. I flipped through the stations, hitting the high points, not finding much. I had the photo of Evelyn and Annie in front of me. They were standing together, looking happy. Annie had curly red hair and the pale skin of a natural redhead. Evelyn had her brown hair pulled back. Conservative make-up. She was smiling, but not enough to bring out the dimples.

A mom and her kid ...and I was supposed to find them.

*

• *

Connie Rosolli had a doughnut in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other when I walked into the bail bonds office the next morning. She pushed the doughnut box across the top of her desk with her elbow and white powdered sugar sifted off her doughnut, down onto her boobs. "Have a doughnut," she said. "You look like you need one."

Connie is the office manager. She's in charge of petty cash and she uses it wisely, buying doughnuts, file folders, and financing the occasional gaming trip to Atlantic City. It was a little after eight, and Connie was ready for the day, eyes lined, lashes mascaraed, lips painted bright red, hair curled into a big bush around her face. I, on the other hand, was letting the day creep up on me. I had my hair pulled into a half-assed pony tail and was wearing my usual stretchy little T-shirt, jeans and boots. Waving a mascara wand in the vicinity of my eye seemed like a dangerous maneuver this morning, so I was au naturel.

I took a doughnut and looked around. "Where's Lula?"

"She's late. She's been late all week. Not that it matters."

Lula was hired to do filing, but mostly she does what she wants.

"Hey, I heard that," Lula said, swinging through the door. "You better not be talking about me. I'm late on account of I'm going to night school now."

"You go one day a week," Connie said.

"Yeah, but I gotta study. It's not like this shit comes easy. It's not like my former occupation as a 'ho helps me out, you know. I don't think my final exam's gonna be about hand jobs."

Lula's a couple inches shorter and a lot of pounds heavier than me. She buys her clothes in the petite department and then shoehorns herself into them. This wouldn't work for most people, but it seems right for Lula. Lula shoehorns herself into life.

"So what's up?" Lula said. "I miss anything?"

I gave Connie the body receipt for Paulson. "Do you guys know anything about child custody bonds?"

"They're relatively new," Connie said. "Vinnie isn't doing them yet. They're high risk bonds. Sebring is the only one in the area taking them on."

"Sebring," Lula said. "Isn't he the guy with the good legs? I hear he's got legs like Tina Turner." She looked down at her own legs. "My legs are the right color but I just got more of them."

"Sebring's legs are white," Connie said. "And I hear they're good at running down blondes."

I swallowed the last of my doughnut and wiped my hands on my jeans. "I need to talk to him."

"You'll be safe today," Lula said. "Not only aren't you blonde, but you aren't exactly decked-out. You have a hard night?"

"I'm not a morning person."

"It's your love life," Lula said. "You aren't getting any, and you got nothing to put a smile on your face. You're letting yourself go, is what you're doing."

"I could get plenty if I wanted."

"Well, then?"

"It's complicated."

Connie gave me a check for the Paulson capture. "You aren't thinking about going to work for Sebring, are you?"

I told them about Evelyn and Annie.

"Maybe I should talk to Sebring with you," Lula said. "Maybe we can get him to show us his legs."

"Not necessary," I said. "I can manage this myself." And I didn't especially want to see Les Sebring's legs.

"Look here. I didn't even put my bag down," Lula said. "I'm ready to go."

Lula and I stared at each other for a beat. I was going to lose. I could see it coming. Lula had it in her mind to go with me. Probably didn't want to file. "Okay," I said, "but no shooting, no shoving, no asking him to roll up his pants leg."

"You got a lot of rules," Lula said.

We took the CRV across town and parked in a lot next to Sebring's building. The bonds office was on the ground floor, and Sebring had a suite of offices above it.

"Just like Vinnie," Lula said, eyeballing the carpeted floor and freshly painted walls. "Only it looks like humans work here. And check out these chairs for people to sit in ...they don't even have stains on them. And his receptionist don't have a mustache either."

Sebring escorted us into his private office. "Stephanie Plum. I've heard of you," he said.

"It wasn't my fault that the funeral parlor burned down," I told him. "And I almost never shoot people."

"We heard of you, too," Lula said to Sebring. "We heard you got great legs."

Sebring was wearing a silver gray suit, white shirt and red, white and blue tie. He reeked of respectability, from the tips of his shined black shoes to the top of his perfectly trimmed white hair. And behind the polite politician smile he looked like he didn't take a lot of shit. There was a moment of silence while he considered Lula. Then he hiked his pants leg up. "Get a load of these wheels," he said.

"You must work out," Lula said. "You got excellent legs."

"I wanted to speak to you about Mabel Markowitz," I said to Sebring. "You called her on a child custody bond."

He nodded. "I remember. I have someone scheduled to visit her again today. So far, she hasn't been helpful."

"She lives next door to my parents, and I don't think she knows where her granddaughter or her great-granddaughter have gone."

"That's too bad," Sebring said. "Do you know about child custody bonds?"

"Not a lot."

"PBUS, which as you know is a professional bail bonds association, worked with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children to get legislation going that would discourage parents from kidnapping their own kids.

"It's a pretty simple idea. If it looks like there's a good chance one or both parents will take off with the child for parts unknown, the court can impose a cash bond."

"So this is like a criminal bail bond, but it's a child who's bonded," I said.

"With one big difference," Sebring said. "When a criminal bond is posted by a bail bondsman and the accused fails to appear in court, the bondsman forfeits the bond amount to the court. Then the bondsman can hunt down the accused, return him to the system and hopefully be reimbursed by the court. In the case of a child custody bond, the bondsman forfeits the bond to the wronged parent. The money is then supposed to be used to find the missing child."

"So if the bond isn't enough of a deterrent to kidnapping, at least there's money to hire a professional to search for the missing child," I said.

"Exactly. Problem is, unlike a criminal bond, the child custody bondsman doesn't have the legal right to hunt down the child. The only recourse the child custody bondsman has to recoup his loss is to foreclose on property posted at the time of the bond signature.

"In this case, Evelyn Soder didn't have the cash on hand for the bond. So she came to us and used her grandmother's house as collateral. The hope is that when you call up the grandmother and tell her to start packing she'll divulge the location of the missing child."

"Have you already released the money to Steven Soder?"

"The money gets released in three weeks."

So I had three weeks to find Annie.

Copyright © 2002 by Evanovich, Inc.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time rolling on the ground with men who think a stiffy represents personal growth.  The rolling around has nothing to do with my sex life.  The rolling around is what happens when a bust goes crapolla and there's a last ditch effort to hog tie a big, dumb bad guy possessing a congenitally defective frontal lobe.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I'm in the fugitive apprehension business ...bond enforcement, to be exact, working for my cousin Vincent Plum.  It wouldn't be such a bad job except the direct result of bond enforcement is usually incarceration ?and fugitives tend to not like this.  Go figure.  To encourage fugitive cooperation on the way back to the pokey I usually persuade the guys I capture to wear handcuffs and leg shackles.  This works pretty good most of the time.  And if done right, cuts back on the rolling around on the ground stuff.

Unfortunately, today wasn't most of the time.  Martin Paulson, weighing in at 350 pounds and standing 5'8" tall, was arrested for credit card fraud and for being a genuinely obnoxious person.  He failed to show for his court appearance last week, and this put Martin on my Most Wanted List.  Since Martin is not too bright, he hadn't been too hard to find.  Martin had, in fact, been at home engaged in what he does best ...stealing merchandise off the internet.  I'd managed to get Martin into cuffs and leg shackles and into my car.  I'd even managed to drive Martin to the police station on North Clinton Avenue.  Unfortunately, when I attempted to get Martin out of my car he'd tipped over and was now rollingaround on his belly, trussed up like a Christmas goose, unable to right himself.

We were in the parking lot adjacent to the municipal building.  The back door leading to the docket lieutenant was less than fifty feet away.  I could call for help, but I'd be the brunt of cop humor for days.  I could unlock the cuffs or ankle shackles, but I didn't trust Paulson.  He was royally pissed-off, red-faced and swearing, making obscene threats and horrifying animal sounds.

I was standing there, watching Paulson struggle, wondering what the hell I was going to do, because anything short of a fork-lift wasn't going to get Paulson up off the pavement.  And just then, Joe Juniak pulled into the lot.  Juniak is a former police chief and is now mayor of Trenton.  He's a couple years older than me and about a foot taller.  Juniak's second cousin, Ziggy, is married to my cousin-in-law Gloria Jean.  So we're sort of family ...in a remote way.

The driver side window slid down, and Juniak grinned at me, cutting his eyes to Paulson.  "Is he yours?"

"Yep."

"He's illegally parked.  His ass is over the white line."

I toed Paulson, causing him to start rocking again.  "He's stuck."

Juniak got out of his car and hauled Paulson up by his armpits.  "You don't mind if I embellish this story when I spread it all over town, do you?"

"I do mind!  Remember, I voted for you," I said.  "And we're almost related."

"Not  gonna help you, cutie.  Cops live for stuff like this."

"You're not a cop anymore."

"Once a cop, always a cop."

Paulson and I watched Juniak get back into his car and drive away.

"I can't walk in these things," Paulson said, looking down at the shackles.  "I'm gonna fall over again.  I haven't got a good sense of balance."

"Have you ever heard the bounty hunter slogan bring ëem back --dead or alive?"

"Sure."

"Don't  tempt me."

Actually, bringing someone back dead is a big no-no, but this seemed like a good time to make an empty threat.  It was late afternoon.  It was spring.  And I wanted to get on with my life.  Spending another hour coaxing Paulson to walk across the parking lot wasn't high on my list of favored things to do.

I wanted to be on a beach somewhere with the sun blistering my skin until I looked like a fried pork rind.  Okay, truth is at this time of year that might have to be Cancun, and Cancun didn't figure into my budget.  Still the point was, I didn't want to be here in this stupid parking lot with Paulson.

"You probably don't even have a gun," Paulson said.

"Hey give me a break.  I haven't got all day for this.  I have other things to do."

"Like what?"

"None of your business."

"Hah!  You haven't got anything better to do."

I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and black Caterpillar boots, and I had a real urge to kick him in the back of his leg with my size seven Cat.
 

"Tell me," he said.

"I promised my parents I'd be home for dinner at six."

Paulson burst out laughing.  "That's pathetic.  That's fucking pathetic."  The laughter turned into a coughing fit, Paulson leaned forward, wobbled side to side and fell over.  I reached for him, but it was too late.  He was back on his belly, doing his beached whale imitation.

*      *     *

My parents live in a narrow duplex in a chunk of Trenton called the Burg.  If the Burg was a food, it would be pasta --penne rigate, ziti, fettuccine, spaghetti, and elbow macaroni, swimming in marinara, cheese sauce or mayo.  Good, dependable, all-occasion food that puts a smile on your face and fat on your butt.  The Burg is a solid neighborhood where people buy houses and live in them until death kicks them out.  Backyards are used to run a clothesline, store the garbage can and give the dog a place to poop.  No fancy backyard decks and gazebos for Burgers.  Burgers sit on their small front porches and cement stoops.  The better to see the world go by.

I rolled in just as my mother was pulling the roast chicken out of the oven.  My father was already in his seat at the head of the table.  He stared straight ahead, eyes glazed, thoughts in limbo, knife and fork in hand.  My sister Valerie, who had recently moved back home after leaving her husband, was at work whipping potatoes in the kitchen.  When we were kids Valerie was the perfect daughter.  And I was the daughter who stepped in dog poo, sat on gum, and constantly fell off the garage roof in an attempt to fly.  As a last ditch effort to preserve her marriage, Valerie had traded in her Italian-Hungarian genes and turned herself into Meg Ryan.  The marriage failed, but the blond Meg shag persists.
Valerie's kids were at the table with my dad.  The nine year old, Angie, was sitting primly with her hands folded, resigned to enduring the meal, an almost perfect clone of Valerie at that age.  The seven year old, Mary Alice, the kid from hell, had two sticks poked into her brown hair.

"What's with the sticks?" I asked.

"They not sticks.  They're antlers.  I'm a reindeer."

This was a surprise because usually she's a horse.

"How was your day?" Grandma asked me, setting a bowl of green beans on the table.  "Did you shoot anybody?  Did you capture any bad guys?"
Grandma Mazur moved in with my parents shortly after my Grandpa Mazur took his fat clogged arteries to the all-you-can-eat buffet in the sky. Grandma's in her mid-seventies and doesn't look a day over ninety.  Her body is aging, but her mind seems to be going in the opposite direction.  She was wearing white tennis shoes and a lavender polyester warm-up suit.  Her steel gray hair was cut short and permed to within an inch of its life.  Her nails were painted lavender to match the suit.

"I didn't shoot anybody today," I said, "but I brought in a guy wanted for credit card fraud."

There was a knock at the front door, and Mabel Markowitz stuck her head in and called, "Yoohoo".

My parents live in a two family duplex. They own the south half, and Mabel Markowitz owns the north half, the house divided by a common wall and years of disagreement over house paint.  Out of necessity, Mabel's made thrift a religious  experience, getting by on social security and government surplus peanut butter.  Her husband, Izzy, was a good man but drank himself into an early grave.  Mabel's only daughter died of uterine cancer a year ago.  The son-in-law died a month later in a car crash.

All forward progress stopped at the table, and everyone looked to the front door, because in all the years Mabel had lived next door, she'd never once yoohooed while we were eating.

"I hate to disturb your meal," Mabel said.  "I just wanted to ask Stephanie if she'd have a minute to stop over, later.  I have a question about this bond business.  It's for a friend."

"Sure," I said.  "I'll be over after dinner."  I imagined it would be a short conversation since everything I knew about bond could be said in two sentences.

Mabel left and Grandma leaned forward, elbows on the table.  "I bet that's a lot of hooey about wanting advice for a friend.  I bet Mabel's been busted."

Everyone simultaneously rolled their eyes at Grandma.

"Okay then," she said.  "Maybe she wants a job.  Maybe she wants to be a bounty hunter.  You know how she's always squeaking by."

My father shoveled food into his mouth, keeping his head down.  He reached for the potatoes and spooned seconds onto his plate.  "Christ," he mumbled.

"If there's anyone in that family who would need a bail bond, it would be Mabel's ex-grandson-in-law," my mother said.  "He's mixed up with some bad people these days.  Evelyn was smart to divorce him."

"Yeah, and that divorce was real nasty," Grandma said to me.  "Almost as nasty as yours."

"I set a high standard."

"You were a pip," Grandma said.

My mother did another eye roll.  "It was a disgrace."

*     *     *

Mabel Markowitz lives in a museum.  She married in 1943 and still has her first table lamp, her first pot, her first chrome and Formica kitchen table.  Her living room was newly wallpapered in 1957.  The flowers have faded but the paste has held.  The carpet is dark oriental.  The upholstered pieces sag slightly in the middle, imprinted with asses that have since moved on ...either to God or Hamilton Township.

Certainly the furniture doesn't bear the imprint of Mabel's ass as Mabel is a walking skeleton who never sits.  Mabel bakes and cleans and paces while she talks on the phone.  Her eyes are bright, and she laughs easily, slapping her thigh, wiping her hands on her apron.  Her hair is thin and grey, cut short and curled.  Her face is powdered first thing in the morning to a chalky white.  Her lipstick is pink and applied hourly, feathering out into the deep crevices that line her mouth.

"Stephanie," she said, "how nice to see you.  Come in.  I have a coffee cake."

Mrs. Markowitz always has a coffee cake.  That's the way it is in the Burg.  Windows are clean, cars are big and there's always a coffee cake.

I took a seat at the kitchen table.  "The truth is, I don't know very much about bond.  My cousin Vinnie is the bond expert."

"It's not so much about bond," Mabel said.  "It's more about finding someone.  And I fibbed about it being for a friend.  I was embarrassed.  I just don't know how to even begin telling you this."

Mabel's eyes filled with tears.  She cut a piece of coffee cake and shoved it into her mouth.  Angry.  Mabel wasn't the sort of woman to comfortably fall victim to emotion.  She washed the coffee cake down with coffee that was strong enough to dissolve a spoon if you let it sit in the cup too long.  Never accept coffee from Mrs. Markowitz.

"I guess you know Evelyn's marriage didn't work out.  She and Steven got a divorce awhile back, and it was pretty bitter," Mabel finally said.

Evelyn is Mabel's granddaughter.  I've known Evelyn all my life, but we were never close friends.  She lived several blocks away, and she went to Catholic school.  Our paths only intersected on Sundays when she'd come to dinner at Mabel's house.  Valerie and I called her The Giggler because she giggled at everything.  She'd come over to play board games in her Sunday clothes, and she'd giggle when she rolled the dice, giggle when she moved her piece, giggle when she lost.  She giggled so much she got dimples.  And when she got older, she was one of those girls that boys love.  Evelyn was all round softness and dimples and vivacious energy.

I hardly ever saw Evelyn any more, but when I did there wasn't much vivacious energy left in her.

Mabel pressed her thin lips together.  "There was so much arguing and hard feelings over the divorce that the judge made Evelyn take out one of these new child custody bonds.  I guess he was afraid Evelyn wouldn't let Steven see Annie.  Anyway, Evelyn didn't have any money to put up for the bond.  Steven took the money that Evelyn got when my daughter died, and he never gave Evelyn anything.  Evelyn was like a prisoner in that house on Key Street.  I'm almost the only relative left for Evelyn and Annie now, so I put my house here up for collateral.  Evelyn wouldn't have gotten custody if I didn't do that."

This was all new to me.  I'd never heard of a custody bond.  The people I tracked down were in violation of a bail bond.

Mabel wiped the table clean of crumbs and dumped the crumbs in the sink.  Mabel wasn't good at sitting.  "It was all just fine until last week when I got a note from Evelyn, saying she and Annie were going away for awhile.  I didn't think much of it, but all of a sudden everyone is looking for Annie.  Steven came to my house a couple days ago, raising his voice and saying terrible things about Evelyn.  He said she had no business taking Annie off like she did, taking  her away from him and taking her out of first grade.  And he said he was invoking the custody bond.  And then this morning I got a phone call from the bond company telling me they were going to take my house if I didn't help them get Annie back."

Mabel looked around her kitchen.  "I don't know what I'd do without the house.  Can they really take it from me?"

"I don't know," I told Mabel.  "I've never been involved in anything like this."

"And now they all got me worried.  How do I know if Evelyn and Annie are okay?  I don't have any way of getting in touch.  And it was just a note.  It wasn't even like I talked to Evelyn."

Mabel's eyes filled up again, and I was really hoping she wasn't going to flat-out cry because I wasn't great with big displays of emotion.  My mother and I expressed affection through veiled compliments about gravy.

"I feel just terrible," Mabel said.  "I don't know what to do.  I thought maybe you could find Evelyn and talk to her ...make sure her and Annie are all right.  I could put up with losing the house, but I don't want to lose Evelyn and Annie.  I've got some money set aside.  I don't know how much you charge for this sort of thing."

"I don't charge anything.  I'm not a private investigator.  I don't take on private cases like this."  Hell, I'm not even a very good bounty hunter!

Mabel picked at her apron, tears rolling down her cheeks, now.  "I don't know who else to ask."

Oh man, I don't believe this.  Mabel Markowitz, crying!  This was at about the same comfort level as getting a gyno exam in the middle of Main Street at high noon.

"Okay," I said.  "I'll see what I can do ...as a neighbor."

Mabel nodded and wiped her eyes.  "I'd appreciate it."  She took an envelope from the sideboard.  "I have a picture for you.  It's Annie and Evelyn.  It was taken last year when Annie turned seven.  And I wrote Evelyn's address on a piece of paper for you, too.  And her car and license plate."

"Do you have a key to her house?"

"No," Mabel said.  "She never gave me one."

"Do you have any ideas about where Evelyn might have gone?  Anything at all?"

Mabel shook her head.  "I can't imagine where she's taken off to.  She grew up here in the Burg.  Never lived any place else.  Didn't go away to college.  Most all our relatives are right here."

"Did Vinnie write the bond?"

"No.  It's some other company.  I wrote it down."  She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper.  "It's True Blue Bonds, and the man's name is Les Sebring."

My cousin Vinnie owns Vincent Plum Bail Bonds and runs his business out of a small storefront office on Hamilton Avenue.  A while back when I'd been desperate for a job I'd  sort of blackmailed Vinnie into taking me on.  The Trenton economy has since improved, and I'm not sure why I'm still working for Vinnie, except that the office is across from a bakery.
Sebring has offices downtown, and his operation makes Vinnie's look like chump change.  I've never met Sebring but I've heard stories.  He's supposed to be extremely professional.  And he's rumored to have legs second only to Tina Turner.

I gave Mabel an awkward hug, told her I'd look into things for her, and I left.

My mother and my grandmother were waiting for me.  They were at my parent's front door with the door cracked an inch, their noses pressed to the glass.

"Pssst," my grandmother said.  "Hurry up over here.  We're dying."

"I can't tell you," I said.

Both women sucked in air.  This went against the code of the Burg.  In the Burg, blood was always thicker than water.  Professional ethics didn't count for much when held up to a juicy piece of gossip among family members.

"Okay," I said, ducking inside.  "I might as well tell you.  You'll find out anyway."  We rationalize a lot in the Burg, too.  "When Evelyn got divorced she had to take out something called a child custody bond.  Mabel put her house up as collateral.  Now Evelyn and Annie are off somewhere, and Mabel is getting pressured by the bond company."

"Oh my goodness," my mother said.  "I had no idea."

"Mabel is worried about Evelyn and Annie.  Evelyn sent her a note and said she and Annie were going away for a while, but Mabel hasn't heard from them since."

"If I was Mabel I'd be worried about her house," Grandma said.  "Sounds to me like she could be living in a cardboard box under the railroad bridge."

"I told her I'd help her, but this isn't really my thing.  I'm not a private investigator."

"Maybe you could get your friend Ranger to help her," Grandma said.  "That might be better anyway, on account of he's hot.  I wouldn't mind having him hang around the neighborhood."

Ranger is more associate than friend.  Although, I guess friendship is mixed in there somehow, too.  Plus a scary sexual attraction.  A few months ago we made a deal that has haunted me.  Another one of those jumping off the garage roof things, except this deal involved my bedroom. Ranger is Cuban-American with skin the color of a mocha latte, heavy on the mocha, and a body that can best be described as yum.  He's got a big-time stock portfolio, an endless inexplicable supply of expensive black cars, and skills that make Rambo look like an amateur.  I'm pretty sure he only kills bad guys, and I think he might be able to fly like Superman.  Although, the flying part has never been confirmed.  Ranger works in bond enforcement, among other things.  And Ranger always gets his man.

My black Honda CRV was parked curbside.  Grandma walked me to the car.  "Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help," she said.  "I always thought I'd make a good detective on account of I'm so nosey."

"Maybe you could ask around the neighborhood."

"You bet.  And I could go to Stiva's tomorrow.  Charlie Shleckner is laid out.  I hear Stiva did a real good job on him."

New York has Lincoln Center.  Florida has Disney World.  The Burg has Stiva's Funeral Parlor. Not only is Stiva's the premier entertainment facility for the Burg, it's also the nerve center of the news network. If you can't get the dirt on someone at Stiva's, then there isn't any dirt to get.

*     *     *

It was still early when I left Mabel's, so I drove past Evelyn's house on Key Street.  It was a two family house very much like my parents.  Small front yard, small front porch, small two story house.  No sign of life in Evelyn's half.  No car parked in front.  No lights shining behind drawn drapes.  According to Grandma Mazur, Evelyn had lived in the house when she'd been married to Steven Soder and had stayed there with Annie when Soder moved out.  Eddie Abruzzi owns the property and rents out both units.  Abruzzi owns several houses in the Burg and a couple large office buildings in downtown Trenton.  I don't know him personally, but I've heard he's not the world's nicest guy.

I parked and walked to Evelyn's front porch.  I rapped lightly on her door.  No answer.  I tried to peek in the front window, but the drapes were drawn tight.  I walked around the side of the house and stood on tippy toes, looking in.  No luck with the side windows in the front room and dining room, but my snoopiness paid off with the kitchen.  No curtains drawn in the kitchen.  There were two cereal bowls and two glasses on the counter next to the sink.  Everything else seemed tidy.  No sign of Evelyn or Annie.  I returned to the front and knocked on the neighbor's door.

The door opened, and Carol Balog looked out at me.

"Stephanie!" she said.  "How the hell are you?"

I went to school with Carol.  She got a job at the button factory when we graduated and two months later married Lenny Balog.  Once in a while I run into her at Giovichinni's Deli but beyond that we've lost touch.

"I didn't realize you were living here," I said.  "I was looking for Evelyn."

Carol did an eyeroll.  "Everyone's looking for Evelyn.  And to tell you the truth, I hope no one finds her.  Except for you, of course.  Those other jerks I wouldn't wish on anyone."

"What other jerks?"

"Her ex-husband and his friends.  And the landlord, Abruzzi and his goons."

"You and Evelyn were close?"

"As close as anyone could get to Evelyn.  We moved here two years ago, before the divorce.  She'd spend all day popping pills and then drink herself into a stupor at night."

"What kind of pills?"

"Prescription.  For depression, I think.  Understandable, since she was married to Soder.  Do you know him?"

"Not  well."  I met Steven Soder for the first time at Evelyn's wedding, nine years ago, and I took an instant dislike to him.  In my brief dealings with him over the following years I found nothing to change my original bad impression.

"He's a real manipulative bastard.  And abusive," Carol said.

"He'd hit her?"

"Not that I know.  Just mental abuse.  I could hear him yelling at her all the time.  Telling her she was stupid.  She was kind of heavy, and he used to call her the cow.  Then one day he moved out and moved in with some other woman.  Joanne Something.  Evelyn's lucky day."

"Do you think Evelyn and Annie are safe?"

"God, I hope so.  Those two deserve a break."

I looked over at Evelyn's front door.  "I don't suppose you have a key?"

Carol shook her head.  "Evelyn didn't trust anyone.  She was real paranoid.  I don't think her grandma even has a key.  And she didn't tell me where she was going, if that's your next question.  One day she just loaded a bunch of bags into her car and took off."

I gave Carol my card and headed for home.  I live in a three story brick apartment building about ten minutes from the Burg ...five if I'm late for dinner and I hit the lights right.  The building was constructed at a time when energy was cheap and architecture was inspired by economy.  My bathroom is orange and brown, my refrigerator is avocado green and my windows were born before Thermopane.  Fine by me. The rent is reasonable, and the other tenants are okay.  Mostly the building is inhabited by seniors on fixed incomes.  The seniors are, for the most, part nice people ...as long as you don't let them get behind the wheel of a car.

I parked in the lot and pushed through the double glass door that led to the small lobby.  I was filled with chicken and potatoes and gravy and chocolate layer cake and Mabel's coffee cake, so I bypassed the elevator and took the stairs as penance.  All right, so I'm only one flight up, but it's a start, right?

My hamster, Rex, was waiting for me when I opened the door to my apartment.  Rex lives in a soup can in a glass aquarium in my kitchen.  He stopped running on his wheel when I switched the light on and blinked out at me, whiskers whirring.  I like to think it was welcome home but probably it was who put the damn light on?  I gave him a raisin and a small piece of cheese.  He stuffed the food into his cheeks and disappeared into his soup can.  So much for room mate interaction.

In the past, Rex  has sometimes shared his room mate status with a Trenton cop named Joe Morelli.  Morelli's two years older than I am, half a foot taller, and his gun is bigger than mine.  Morelli started looking up my skirt when I was seven, and he's just never gotten out of the habit.  We've had some differences of opinion lately, and Morelli's toothbrush is not currently in my bathroom.  Unfortunately, it's a lot harder to get Morelli out of my heart and my mind than out of my bathroom.  Nevertheless, I'm making an effort.

I got a beer from the fridge and settled in front of the television.  I flipped through the stations, hitting the high points, not finding much.  I had the photo of Evelyn and Annie in front of me.  They were standing together, looking happy.  Annie had curly red hair and the pale skin of a natural redhead.  Evelyn had her brown hair pulled back.  Conservative make-up.  She was smiling, but not enough to bring out the dimples.

A mom and her kid ...and I was supposed to find them.

*     *     *

Connie Rosolli had a doughnut in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other when I walked into the bail bonds office the next morning.  She pushed the doughnut box across the top of her desk with her elbow and white powdered sugar sifted off her doughnut, down onto her boobs.  "Have a doughnut," she said.  "You look like you need one."

Connie is the office manager.  She's in charge of petty cash and she uses it wisely, buying doughnuts, file folders, and financing the occasional gaming trip to Atlantic City.  It was a little after eight, and Connie was ready for the day, eyes lined, lashes mascaraed, lips painted bright red, hair curled into a big bush around her face.  I, on the other hand, was letting the day creep up on me.  I had my hair pulled into a half-assed pony tail and was wearing my usual stretchy little T-shirt, jeans and boots.  Waving a mascara wand in the vicinity of my eye seemed like a dangerous maneuver this morning, so I was au naturel.

I took a doughnut and looked around.  "Where's Lula?"

"She's late.  She's been late all week.  Not that it matters."

Lula was hired to do filing, but mostly she does what she wants.

"Hey, I heard that," Lula said, swinging through the door.  "You better not be talking about me.  I'm late on account of I'm going to night school now."

"You go one day a week," Connie said.

"Yeah, but I gotta study.  It's not like this shit comes easy.  It's not like my former occupation as a 'ho helps me out, you know.  I don't think my final exam's gonna be about hand jobs."
Lula's a couple inches shorter and a lot of pounds heavier than me.  She buys her clothes in the petite department and then shoehorns herself into them.  This wouldn't work for most people, but it seems right for Lula.  Lula shoehorns herself into life.

"So what's up?" Lula said.  "I miss anything?"

I gave Connie the body receipt for Paulson.  "Do you guys know anything about child custody bonds?"

"They're relatively new," Connie said.  "Vinnie isn't doing them yet.  They're high risk bonds.  Sebring is the only one in the area taking them on."

"Sebring," Lula said.  "Isn't he the guy with the good legs?  I hear he's got legs like Tina Turner."  She looked down at her own legs.  "My legs are the right color but I just got more of them."

"Sebring's legs are white," Connie said.  "And I hear they're good at running down blondes."

I swallowed the last of my doughnut and wiped my hands on my jeans.  "I need to talk to him."

"You'll be safe today," Lula said.  "Not only aren't you blonde, but you aren't exactly decked-out.  You have a hard night?"

"I'm not a morning person."

"It's your love life," Lula said.  "You aren't getting any, and you got nothing to put a smile on your face.  You're letting yourself go, is what you're doing."

"I could get plenty if I wanted."

"Well, then?"

"It's complicated."

Connie gave me a check for the Paulson capture.  "You aren't thinking about going to work for Sebring, are you?"

I told them about Evelyn and Annie.

"Maybe I should talk to Sebring with you," Lula said.  "Maybe we can get him to show us his legs."

"Not  necessary," I said.  "I can manage this myself."  And I didn't especially want to see Les Sebring's legs.

"Look here.  I didn't even put my bag down," Lula said.  "I'm ready to go."

Lula and I stared at each other for a beat.  I was going to lose.  I could see it coming.  Lula had it in her mind to go with me.  Probably didn't want to file.  "Okay," I said, "but no shooting, no shoving, no asking him to roll up his pants leg."

"You got a lot of rules," Lula said.

We took the CRV across town and parked in a lot next to Sebring's building.  The bonds office was on the ground floor, and Sebring had a suite of offices above it.

"Just like Vinnie," Lula said, eyeballing the carpeted floor and freshly painted walls.  "Only it looks like humans work here.  And check out these chairs for people to sit in ...they don't even have stains on them.  And his receptionist don't have a mustache either."

Sebring escorted us into his private office.  "Stephanie Plum.  I've heard of you," he said.

"It wasn't my fault that the funeral parlor burned down," I told him.  "And I almost never shoot people."

"We heard of you, too," Lula said to Sebring.  "We heard you got great legs."

Sebring was wearing a silver gray suit, white shirt and red, white and blue tie.  He reeked of respectability, from the tips of his shined black shoes to the top of his perfectly trimmed white hair.  And behind the polite politician smile he looked like he didn't take a lot of shit.  There was a moment of silence while he considered Lula.  Then he hiked his pants leg up.  "Get a load of these wheels," he said.

"You must work out," Lula said.  "You got excellent legs."

"I wanted to speak to you about Mabel Markowitz," I said to Sebring.  "You called her on a child custody bond."

He nodded.  "I remember.  I have someone scheduled to visit her again today.  So far, she hasn't been helpful."

"She lives next door to my parents, and I don't think she knows where her granddaughter or her great-granddaughter have gone."

"That's too bad," Sebring said.  "Do you know about child custody bonds?"

"Not a lot."

"PBUS, which as you know is a professional bail bonds association, worked with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children to get legislation going that would discourage parents from kidnapping their own kids.

"It's a pretty simple idea.  If it looks like there's a good chance one or both parents will take off with the child for parts unknown, the court can impose a cash bond."

"So this is like a criminal bail bond, but it's a child who's  bonded," I said.

"With one big difference," Sebring said.  "When a criminal bond is posted by a bail bondsman and the accused fails to appear in court, the bondsman forfeits the bond amount to the court.  Then the bondsman can hunt down the accused, return him to the system and hopefully be reimbursed by the court.  In the case of a child custody bond, the bondsman forfeits the bond to the wronged parent.  The money is then supposed to be used to find the missing child."

"So if the bond isn't enough of a deterrent to kidnapping, at least there's money to hire a professional to search for the missing child," I said.

"Exactly.  Problem is, unlike a criminal bond, the child custody bondsman doesn't have the legal right to hunt down the child.  The only recourse the child custody bondsman has to recoup his loss is to foreclose on property posted at the time of the bond signature.

"In this case, Evelyn Soder didn't have the cash on hand for the bond.  So she came to us and used her grandmother's house as collateral.  The hope is that when you call up the grandmother and tell her to start packing she'll divulge the location of the missing child."

"Have you already released the money to Steven Soder?"

"The money gets released in three weeks."

So I had three weeks to find Annie.


Hard Eight Copyright © 2002 by Evanovich, Inc. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010
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Interviews & Essays

Janet Does It By the Numbers: How Professional Wrestling, Donald Duck, and Loads of Dirty Talk Led the Author of Hard Eight to a Life of Crime
From the May/June 2002 issue of Book magazine.

For Janet Evanovich, writing a book is like pulling your guts out through your nose. If she has something better to do, she says, she'll do it. So you'll see her riding around Hanover, New Hampshire, on the back of her daughter Alex's Harley-Davidson, flying off to catch a World Wrestling Federation event, or indulging in her latest obsession, watching NASCAR. She motivates herself, she admits, by spending money before she earns it. But she is disciplined enough to add a new novel every year to her bestselling Stephanie Plum line, a fast-paced, no-holds-barred series that retains a bit of the sizzle and steam that Evanovich captured as a successful romance writer in books with titles like Manhunt and Naughty Neighbor. She pounded out her latest, Hard Eight, the same way she has written her other books: by sitting in her office in her Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff house for up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, eating her way through bag after bag of Cheez Doodles.

What makes you lose control?
One glass of champagne. I'm a real cheap date -- I can't drink. One night in my late 20s, I got drunk as a skunk and fell off the toilet and broke my nose -- crashed into the sink and knocked myself out. Really, it was a terrible thing then, but it's funny now. So I went to the ER and the doctor asked me, "How did you break your nose?" I told him I passed out and fell off the toilet, and he said to me, "Were you straining?" I had plastic surgery and got this great nose. So something good comes out of everything.

Why did you switch from romance novels to mysteries?
First of all, I got kicked out of romance. I reached the point where I was very frustrated because I couldn't get anyone to buy the romantic adventure books that I wanted to write. So I just quit. You can reinvent yourself all the time. I look at young people who are so worried about doing it all and about their careers. It's all bullshit. You can rearrange your life anytime you want if you want it badly enough.

Why did you make your heroine, Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter?
I didn't want to do a female private investigator, because I just didn't think I could do anything better than Sue [Grafton]. I didn't want to do a cop, because you really need to know what you're doing to pull off a cop. And one day I saw Midnight Run on television. And what I realized was that it's kind of a seat-of-your-pants thing. You rely on a lot of bravado and intuition. You need to have some skills, but it seemed like something that Stephanie and I could come up-to-speed together on.

Is there a lot of Stephanie in you?
Yes, a lot. She is younger and slimmer and braver, but she has my background and we have a lot of similar interests. But Stephanie is not in my generation. Alex keeps me in the right generation. Alex drags me out to NASCAR; we just came back from seeing the WWF. Any time I can sit and watch some gorgeous guy in little black leather panties is a good day.

That brings up sex. Is there a difference between the sex you wrote in romance novels and what you write now?
In romance there was a lot more of it, and it was more specific and romantic, and the language was different. You talk about his "manhood," but I can call it a "dick" now. It was one of the reasons why I changed over. I feel more comfortable with the kind of sex I have in my books now.

What books are on your nightstand?
Stacked right now are about 40 books, because I almost never get a chance to read these days. I read a lot of comic books. I love Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, and I have a subscription to Betty and Veronica and Donald Duck. Actually, Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge are the reasons why I am writing the books that I write today. They are adventure stories. Uncle Scrooge is always running off looking for Inca treasures or gold in the Klondike, and that is what I'm writing. I love adventure.

So what scares you?
Spiders. That's pretty much it. (Jennifer Clarson)

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Recipe

Hard Eight
"Keeps up Evanovich's standards for over-the-top situations" -Chicago Tribune

"[A] must read...readers will want to finish this delightful work in one sitting."--Midwest Book Review

"Offers the best action yet."-Newark Star-Ledger

"The girl mercenary is as fresh as ever." -People

"Hard Eight is most emphatically not Raymond Chandler but, like his work, a piece of finely crafted prose." -San Francisco Chronicle

"Plum is one of fiction's most irresistible heroines."-Seattle Post Intelligencer

"Evanovich has certainly come a long way since One for the Money; her latest Stephanie Plum mystery merits a one-day national laydown on June 18."--Library Journal

"Well plotted and cleverly resolved...her wickedly funny characterizations and the intriguing love triangle are what keep her readers coming back for more."-Bookpage

"As close to summer escapism as you can get. Evanovich hits a high note with her newest...a great addition to a well-stocked beach bag."-Houston Chronicle

"A perfect summer vacation book...promises fun, laughter, and unforgettable characters...Evanovich delivers."-Tennessean (Nashville, TN)

"Thrills mixed with lust, seasoned with humor: a delightful escape."-News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

"Evanovich produces more than "beach reading". She writes rollicking, raunchy, hysterical fiction that is so real, you will laugh out loud and want to visit the Burg."-Rockwall County News

"Just when you think the adventures of Plum and company can't get any funnier or moreconvoluted, Janet Evanovich proves you wrong-nobody does it better!" -Romantic Times

Seven Up
"A madcap comic mystery-Jersey-girl style."-The New York Times

"Expect a laugh per page...Bottom line: Plum Pick."-People

"If you like your summer reads hot and sassy, try Seven Up."-Boston Herald

"Evanovich is the crown princess of detective fiction...Seven Up is brassy, comical, and light-hearted."-Bookpage

"[Seven Up is funny, sexy, scary."-Booklist

"Edgy romance triangle, the loopy family relationships, or the bounty-hunting jobs that skate between absurdity and genuine tension."-Denver Post

"An adventurous, amusing ride...billed as a crime novel, it has the requisite intrigue and chase scenes, but is also seasoned with humor."-Oakland Press (Pontiac, MI)

"[A] fast, funny, and first-rate tale."-Ft. Myers News Press

"Romantic and laugh-out-loud funny, this caper is the perfect summer antidote to serious reading."-St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"The dialogue's snappy...the pace is quick...Evanovich's great gift is an ability to create situations zany enough to provoke bursts of laughter."-Philadelphia Inquirer

"Marked by wise-cracking humor, eccentric characters, and a gritty urban New Jersey setting...Evanovich's 'Stephanie Plum' series attracts an ever-increasing number of fans with each book."-Library Journal

"Loads of fun...with laughs on every page."-USA Today

"Evanovich continues...her successful formula...[she] provides a beginning that illustrates all that is right with this series and an ending that ties the story together, gives us a dose of reality, and leaves us with a cliffhanger."-Chicago Tribune
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 597 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(374)

4 Star

(135)

3 Star

(61)

2 Star

(16)

1 Star

(11)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 601 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fun and funny

    Another great Stephanie Plum story. I am quickly becoming a Ranger fan, if you know what I mean....

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 22, 2011

    Doesn't disapoint

    Awesome book! Don't know what i will do when i am done with the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 10, 2011

    Disappointing compared to the rest

    Nothing in this book did it for me. I usually enjoy grandma for the humor, and she isn't in this one very much. The new side-kick wasn't very funny, verging on annoying in my opinion, almost like ja-ja in Star Wars episode 1. And has anyone noticed the author writes the same chemistry for both Morelli and Ranger? They're using the same lines "liar", "cupcake", etc for Stephanie; similiar descriptions for the way Morelli and Ranger touch Stephanie; I know I would like a little variation here. I think she writes off Morelli too suddenly and introduces Ranger's affection too fast. The crime was not engrossing as well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 17, 2009

    Stephanie Plum the Bond Enforcer!

    From the moment you pick this book up till the moment you put it down. It will have you guessing all the way through it. You as the reader follows Stephanie throughout the story. Stephanie is in the Fugitive Apprehensive Business also known as Bond Enforcement. If you are comfortable with finding people who didn't show up for court and putting your life in danger, Then this is a regular job for you or if you are just a thrill seeker then this book is for you. Not only is the mystery part of it good but also the romance part of the story. How would you feel if the love of your life left you because of your career? Find out what Stephanie does in order to deal with that, all you have to do is buy this book and open up the first page.
    In my opinion I feel that this book is an excellent book. I am not the type to pick up a book and actually finish it but as soon I picked this one up I never put it down. From the first page to the very last page I was always was satisfied with the story. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2007

    Getting Stale

    Ok, I have to be honest. I have read all the books in this series up to Hard Eight. The first 3 or so were enjoyable...but since then each book has been the same recycled stuff, and by now the attempts at comedy just sort of fall flat. Grandma Mazur talking about private parts and other inappropriates, mysterious Ranger trying to seduce Stephanie, Morelli and Stephanie bickering but still hot for each other, Stephanie, Lula and Joyce Barnhart getting into a physical altercation or two, Stephanie feeding her hampster Rex, Stephanie's mother being exasperated....its just getting old!! The part about Stephanie's sister Valerie attempting to become a lesbian was dumb, too. At this point I have no desire to read #9. I'm disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2004

    Seems to be coasting

    I liked the series overall but was always hoping for more character development by this book. It would be nice if she took a self defense class at least. Some scope for humor there. To be honest I bought this one only for the Ranger sub-plot. Obviously the author is coasting on past laurels. If Nine is like this then forget it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2003

    A Definate MUST READ!

    I started this series on #6 I had to go to the library and get the first to last books! I laughed till I cried with every book! I am originally from Jersey and there are too too many Jerseisums for me to count! Hiliarious Read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2003

    Why can't we have some resoultions

    Janet needs to give some kind of answers to the story line and not just leave it blowing in wind.And please lets loose the Ranger and Stephanie things.Let them be co worker and flirts but nothing more. Let her and Morelli get together and stay stop all the mind games that seems to be Janet's way of making us always wonder , VISIONS was a little to over the top.But hope the feeling will carry over to 9.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2002

    The characters are there, but the balance is off

    I have read (and re-read) every Stephanie Plum novel to date, and (Sorry, Janet!) Hard Eight is just not up to snuff. I miss Grandma Mazur (she should at least threaten someone with a gun), I miss Joe (Stephanie's soul-mate!) and, although he's in it a lot, I miss Ranger! What have you done with him?!? He's still sexy, he's still hot as a pistol, but the passion that emanated off the page with his and Steph's flirtations in the last three books are strangely absent here ... while he fills the page and makes daydreamers of us all, for his and Steph's ultimate moment, it's as though he checked more than his gun at the door. I realize that Steph's deepest soul belongs to Morelli, but she's hot for Ranger ... don't give us cool reflections at a time that needs unbridled heat!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2002

    Hoping Morelli and Steph back together in #9

    While I love the Stephanie Plum series, this wasn't one of the best. I'm glad Evanovich glossed over the love scene between Ranger and Stephanie because (to me anyway) I wouldn't have wanted to read it. She loves Morelli and I hope they get back together in #9. Stephanie had her fun with Ranger, now it's time for Morelli to get back in the picture. Still recommend reading this book, though. Not as great as the other ones but die-hard Plum fan have to read it to keep up.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2002

    YUMMY

    Stephanie's at it again, and it was worth the wait!! Yummy describes this book. I couldn't put it down, and had to re-read certain sections of the book because I couldn't get enough. My department at work consists of 4 women and 2 men--all the women are reading the series, and the men all know who Ranger and Morelli are! Can't wait for #9--Hurry up Janet!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2014

    Leah anne

    Jack f is locked out

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  • Posted January 3, 2014

    highly recommended

    read the whole series, then re-read it again...

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  • Posted December 14, 2013

    This series has me laughing till I cry. I love this series and I

    This series has me laughing till I cry. I love this series and I highly recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2013

    Great book

    I love theses books. They are the best.

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  • Posted October 22, 2013

    Quick Read

    Love Stephanie Plum!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2013

    Highly Recommended.

    The Stephanie Plum books are a joy to read. Entertainment for when you just want to relax and stop thinking about the world around you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

    Another great book in the Stephanie Plum Series!

    If you love the Stephanie Plum series books by Janet Evanovich, you can add another to your list.

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  • Posted March 20, 2013

    continued saga

    How one person can have so many narrow escapes is one of the things that makes reading the next one of the series a must. I love it and am all the way up to book eleven at this time and will continue to read them until done.

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  • Posted February 15, 2013

    Great Story

    Evanovich does a great job on #8. The trouble that Stephanie seems to find makes me both laugh out loud and wonder if she has truly met her match in trouble.

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