23_turbotwentythree_evanovichBy Janet Evanovich

#1 USA Today bestseller, 11/24/16

What it is: The twenty-third novel in Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, about a New Jersey bounty hunter. In this entry Plum investigates the murder of an employee at a local candy factory.

In broad strokes, Turbo Twenty-Three is similar to Escape Clause, in that they’re both contemporary detective stories with a mildly dark sense of humor, though this one is more cartoonish. For the most part it’s fun enough, and the early discovery of a corpse coated in chocolate is a nice metaphor for comfort food murder mysteries as a genre.

Unfortunately, this book is also kinda racist. Stephanie’s sidekick is a black ex-prostitute named Lula who’s incompetent, dumb and gluttonous in the classic ethnic comic relief character mold. (She crashes a tractor-trailer into a cop car and then spends much of the rest of the book trying to put together a Naked and Afraid audition tape.) Experiencing the book in audiobook form, as I did, makes things even worse, as you have to listen to the white narrator try to approximate Lula’s accent.

Even though the Plum franchise is clearly very successful, I can’t find much discussion of its racial politics online. The most prominent critique seems to be this 2006 Amazon review of Ten Big Ones, which suggests that the problem has been baked into the series for a long time (and that Plum’s love triangle dynamic with her two suitors hasn’t changed in at least thirteen books). Just goes to show how invisible non-“literary” novels are to America’s chattering class; I can’t imagine a TV show or movie getting away with this sort of thing these days. Then again, the first Stephanie Plum book was adapted into the 2012 film One for the Money, starring Katherine Heigl as Plum, and I don’t recall any outcry over it. I’d actually be interested in seeing that movie just to find out if Sherri Shepherd’s version of Lula comes off any better than the character does on the page.

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