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. During the divorce proceedings, he and Evelyn signed a child custody bond, and Steven is demanding the money guaranteed by the bond to find Annie. The money was secured by a mortgage on Evelyn’s grandmother’s house, and the True Blue Bonds Bail Agency wants to take possession of the house.
Finding a kidnapped child is not an assignment for a bounty hunter. But Evelyn’s grandmother lives next door to Stephanie’s parents, and Stephanie’s mother and grandmother are not about to see their neighbor lose her house because of abduction.
Even though Stephanie’s plate is full with miscreants who missed their court dates, including old nemesis and violent drunk Andy Bender and an elusive little old lady accused of grand theft auto, she can’t disappoint Grandma Mazur! So she follows the trail left by Annie and Evelyn– and finds a lot more than she bargained for. Steven is somehow linked with a very scary Eddie Abruzzi. Trenton cop and on-again, off-again fiance Joe Morelli and Stephanie’s mentor and tormentor, Ranger, warn Stephanie about Abruzzi, but it’s Abruzzi’s eyes and mannerisms that frighten Stephanie the most. Stephanie needs Ranger’s savvy and expertise, and she’s willing to accept his help to find Annie even though it might mean becoming 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. Not to mention the fact that there’s a killer rabbit on the loose!
Strap on your helmet and get ready for the ride of your life. Hard Eight. The world of Plum has never been wilder.
Originally published in hardback June 2002, St. Martin’s Press
The Stephanie Plum series is like the little engine that just kept on chugging. The past couple of books leaned more toward the funny and less towards the dark. This book veers us back into the dark side of the job, without losing the funny that Plum readers know and love.
Stephanie gets tied up with Eddie Abruzzi while trying to help out a neighbor whose daughter and granddaughter are missing. Abruzzi turns out to be a twisted sociopath war gamer who likes to play with his prey before he squashes it. He tells Stephanie to call off her search for the missing woman and child, but, of course, Stephanie refuses to back down.
We have the introduction of a lawyer who works out of a laundromat. Honestly, I didn’t think much of him, just another puppy dog to follow Stephanie around. But it turns out that the lawyer without offices needs office help, so Stephanie sets her sister up with the job. Just in time, too, because sister Valerie was beginning to languish in her indecision as to what to do next as she tries to pick up the pieces of her broken life.
Stephanie’s relationship with Joe is back on the back-burner. So, she’s free to go ahead and pay Ranger what she owes him, one night in bed. Finally! – And it only took eight books. – But the aftermath of sharing a night with Ranger isn’t quite what Stephanie was looking for. Ranger doesn’t want a girlfriend, he just wants someone to play Romper Room with him from time to time. No one can pin Ranger down, that’s just not his style.
Now Stephanie is fully caught between two men who want the complete opposite of what the other wants. One wants a commitment, the other doesn’t. One wants her to give up her job, the other gets a kick from watching try to do it. And Stephanie… she still doesn’t know what she wants.
Her personal mess is getting to her, too. On top of her bad luck with vehicles, she now keeps loosing handcuffs left and right, she can’t bring in an apprehension to save her life, and now there’s a rabbit following her around everywhere she goes.
But the worst is still to come. Things get incredibly dangerous for Stephanie and for those associated with her. Her mom runs down a bear that’s chasing Stephanie down the street, and then Valerie is taken hostage.
The kidnappers don’t want Valerie though, they trade Valerie for Stephanie. And when Stephanie finds herself trapped in a cabin in Pennsylvania, she doesn’t walk away unscathed. That’s a scar that stays with you for life. But Valerie comes back after her sister, and we learn that you just can’t keep any Plum woman down.
I have to say, the series is starting to feel a little slumpy to me, a little too formulaic. But really, what long-running series doesn’t? Readers come back for the funny, and we come back for the little thrill we get when the bad guys finally do come crashing down.
We come back to see if Stephanie will ever decide if she’s a ‘cupcake’ or a ‘babe’ before Morelli or Ranger end up deciding for her. We come back, because we just can’t help ourselves.
Four out of five pairs of handcuffs.