>♪ ♫ ♬ Where have you gone, Lee Goldberg
Readers turn their lonely eyes to you
Wu wu wu
What's that you say, Ms. Evanovich
Lee Goldberg has left and gone away
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey ♬ ♪ ♫
(with apologies to Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Lee Goldberg, Janet Evanovich, Mrs. Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, my parents, teachers, Vogon poets... but dang, I spent a day and a half singing that to myself)
I've (purchased and) read all the previous novels at least once, read most of the short stories/novellas, and listened to all of the audiobooks of the series up to this point. I was a fan, maybe not the biggest fan -- I expressed issues and reservations from time to time, but I knew I could expect a fun adventure, some fun banter, a little ridiculousness, and a clever crime story when I picked up a Fox and O'Hare novel. But when the inimitable Lee Goldberg departed, I got nervous -- Evanovich has slipped in recent years (as I've discussed), and I don't think she cares or notices. Still, I wasn't sure how much of the success of these books were up to Goldberg and how much was Evanovich finding a spark in new characters that wasn't there anymore in her Plum franchise/cash cow. Well, I think I've solved that mystery to my satisfaction -- it was Goldberg.
I'm so, so relieved that I didn't buy this thing. I'm sorry the local library did, too, although I'm glad I was able to take advantage of this.
First off, there wasn't much of a con. It's an adventure story -- there was a little bit of a con at the end, but on the whole, there's no reason for Nick Fox to be around for the whole book. As such, we don't get most of the team showing up. Only Kate's father, Jake, comes along.
Which is fitting, really -- he belongs in adventure story. His basic approach of this retired guy who can pull off the occasional save with military equipment/connections while not liking to talk about that kind of thing has been exchanged for an older super-soldier that gives no evidence of being reticent about anything or all that old.
A new member of the team is introduced -- he's supposed to be the voice of reason keeping the destruction of private property to a minimum, and to do all the paperwork that Kate seems to ignore. First I think they did this already, and it didn't work too well (the character was alright, but a dufus -- I can't remember if it was the same guy or not). Secondly, Kate -- not their boss -- told him about the super-secret arrangement with Nick Fox while in Fox's presence and in a very casual manner. It just felt sloppy. Lastly, the character is the least-realistic character I think this series has ever produced -- there's no universe in which he makes it as an FBi agent for a month -- much less be expected to be an agent that can keep things going well for this partnership.
There are a bunch of non-criminal types that really don't need to be around but keep showing up anyway -- they aren't amusing, they aren't well-conceived characters, they're around to complicate plots and to be funny. They rarely succeed at the latter.
The primary villain (who I won't name because he's not revealed for quite a while) wasn't actually that bad, and if they'd used him better, I wouldn't be complaining about it at all. He just didn't get the chance to be anything but briefly intimidating and then a pawn for Nick and Kate (making you wonder if he really wasn't that intimidating after all). His primary accomplice was the person who did most of the work. She seemed half-baked (maybe three-quarters), and wasn't all that convincing -- her scheme (for lack of a better term) didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Her henchmen were pathetic and uninteresting.
Nick Fox . . . was a shell of the character. He'd traded in his usual between-assignment shenanigans for some dumb scheme about social media coaching, using a pseudonym that showed none of the panache characteristic of Fox. There was little reason for him to be around for most of the book, other than to make bad advances toward Kate.
Kate, meanwhile, seemed less competent than usual. A bit more clueless about criminal activity and Nick Fox, and fairly dependent on her father for the more action-hero-y stuff. Which didn't seem right, either. She said "jinkies" so much I wondered if she'd been Velma in a previous life -- a trait I don't remember belonging to her. Of all the characters, she seemed more herself than the others -- still, she seemed off.
The relationship between the Kate and Nick really doesn't make sense. Some of what's said between the two of them makes me think that this volume takes place between Books 3 & 4 rather than after Book 5. Although that makes the whole explanation for Cosmo even worse, because I think it was Book 3 that got Kate shackled with the paperwork partner last time. The last chapter of The Big Kahuna takes the nice relationship that was developing between the two protagonists during the Evanovich/Goldberg run and ruins it -- and ruins the timeline, too. If this takes place after Book 5, it's meaningless (as is a lot of what happened before). If it takes place after book 3 (which makes the most sense), it ruins the arc of 4 and 5. Then again, it's not like the Plum books have a real timeline, it looks like the Evanovich^2 run will follow that. It's not about development anymore, it's not about growth of character or relationship -- it's about churning out books that'll sell.
The whole thing felt like a Stephanie Plum book that Stephanie, Joe and Ranger forgot to show up for -- but reasonable facsimiles thereof did. One of the great things about the previous novels is that they didn't feel like Evanovich, or completely like a Goldberg. That's out the window. And the book, en toto, suffered for it.
I've spent far more time and space on this post than I intended to (and still haven't touched all my notes), so let me wrap this up. A year or two back after I spent time critiquing a book that I gave two stars to, one of my readers asked if I gave that novel 2, what would it take to get a 1? I said a book would have to make me mad, not just disappoint. Probably, on merit, I should give this two stars -- there were some good moments, I have to admit (although while writing this, I seem to have forgotten them). But as I was thinking about that, I remembered that conversation, and well...this book as made me mad. It took a solid and reliably entertaining series, with good characters and ruined them. Just ruined them. I might give it one more try, just to see if they learned anything from this disaster (my guess is that sales won't suffer much and they'll learn nothing). But, without a different co-author, I can't imagine why anyone would read these books again.