My wife and I have been listening to the unabridged audiobook version of Brad Meltzer’s 2002 novel The Millionaires. I read the book back around 2002 after hearing about or actually reading his comic book work. As it turned out, I remembered almost nothing about the story except for a few random bits, so when I started loading up my gigantic iPod with my iTunes back-up files and remembered that I had downloaded a free copy of the audiobook version at some point, I was excited to listen to it. I’ve never listened to a book that I’ve read before, so that was an interesting experience, especially as I kept challenging my brain to remember exactly what happening (and actually questioning whether I read this book or not in the first place).
The key, much like an important part of the book, rests in Disney World. There are some thrilling scenes that take place at the happiest place on earth that did stick in my mind and also helped me convince my wife to give the book a listen. I remember reading or hearing Metlzer say at one point that doing behind the scenes research at Disney was actually more difficult than doing research at the White House. I believe it.
Anyway, the story itself revolves around a pair of brothers who wind up stealing a lot more money than they intended to. What was supposed to be a quick, small grab of money no one would notice turned into an uncovering of a much larger, more nefarious plans that put the brothers on the run. Like the other two Meltzer books I’ve read–Zero Game and Book Of Lies–he keeps the chapters short and the reader on the run along with the characters, making sure not to reveal too much or too little. The reading by Scott Brick–who also does the Nelson DeMille books, which I’ve only reviewed one of, but have actually listened to many more–keeps the story moving along perfectly and matches the tension to a tee. Sure, some of the accents are off, but what are you gonna do?
While The Millionaires was a taught thriller filled with interesting characters I actually cared about and wanted to see do well, Janet Evanovich’s Plum Spooky (2009) was filled with head-scratching events, confusing characters and monkeys. To be fair, neither my wife nor I have read or listened to any of the Stephanie Plum books, but she’s a real world bounty hunter, right? So, why does the end of this book feel/sound like a cut rate James Bond film mixed with superheroes? The bad guys want to control weather! The good guy literally disappears at the end! Another man farts fire! Huh? I swear, I didn’t make any of that up.
The plot revolves around Plum going after a a science guy who skipped out on a bond after smashing his boss in the face and stealing a piece of equipment. Actually, before any of that actually, someone drops off a monkey for her to watch, so he becomes her de facto partner in addition to all her other partners. While going about her job, she happens to smell a dude she knows named Diesel who later shows up at her apartment. He’s what he calls an Unmentionable which means he’s got some kind of supernatural powers or some such. He’s helping Stephanie because his cousin Wolf is also an Unmentionable who is working with the guy she’s after. Confused? If it sounds like a comic, it sure does. Not only with the super-type folk, but also because most people in the book go by colorful nicknames: Wolf, Diesel, Ranger, Flash, Sasquatch, the Easter Bunny, etc. Wolf and the scientist–who also wants to be a rapist, by the way–are working on something that will SPOILER control the weather. To do so, they’ve kidnapped a woman who has her own monkey collection. There’s more, but I won’t get into it.
What threw me with this book is that I felt like I could never get a grip on what kind of reality we’re dealing with. I assumed that it was just the real world, especially after my wife explained that this is the character that Katherine Heigl just played in One For The Money. But then you get the Unmentionables (terrible name, by the way) and her partner Lula constantly talking about the Jersey Devil and even a man who literally farts fire and I just don’t know what I’m supposed to know about this world. Plus, the stakes just felt too high for what I was being shown. As a bad guy, Wolf might have been dangerous, but he came off as super goofy and the science guy was just trying to touch a boob (or worse).
Part of the problem stems from Lorelei King’s reading of the book. Her voice for the science guy is as stereotypical for a nerd as you can get (think the annoying kid from Polar Express and you’re there). I also thought her voice for Lula was grating at the very best, though I’m not sure if that’s a character I could ever get behind as written. In fact, most of the voices were so stereotypical and obvious that they were groan-worthy. At the same time, though, she can only work with what she’s given by the author. There were some genuinely funny moments in there, but I got the overall feeling that Evanovich was trying way too hard to make every single character seem cool and failed. As my wife put it, she missed more than she hit. This was definitely the case at the end when we actually lost track of what was happening and then, bang, it was over. The ending felt anticlimactic, especially given the potential scale for trouble the bad guys were working towards. On the other hand, the abridged version was short and gave us exactly the amount of story we needed to get home from Massachusetts today, so I can’t complain too much.
I know Evanovich spun Diesel and Wolf out into their own Wicked series of books. Did they get even more into the superhero/supernatural stuff? I’d honestly be curious to check them out, especially if she really dove into that realm and had fun with it.