The Stephanie Plum series belongs to that happy subcategory, Murder Lite or The R-Rated Cozy, in which eccentric characters, family members and other locals, drive the plot and divert the reader. Stephanie Plum’s job is bringing back those who have skipped their court dates to collect a percentage of their bond, a dangerous and often unrewarding occupation (heroes of Murder Lite are generally not rich).
This time Plum goes beyond the call of her ordinary duty to look for a mother and daughter who have vanished, leaving in doubt a child custody bond the mother signed with her ex-husband for which she used her mother’s house as security. When the divorced father is found dead—on Stephanie’s couch of course—Stephanie tries to follow the traces of the missing mother and child and solve the mystery of the father’s death. Her investigations bring her into contact with hoodlums and eccentrics—including a new truly comic character, a lawyer named Kloughn who serves well as the book’s clown—and subject her to a variety of threats, some of them comic and others serious. As readers have seen before, she is torn between two lovers, the mysterious and powerful Ranger and Joe Morelli, her policeman former fiance who thinks she leads too dangerous a life. They both help and support her in their very different ways as she moves toward a final frightening confrontation with the villain.
Hard Eight is a little short on plot, as there is no real surprise to the conclusion, but its intriguing comic characters and the ebullient personality of Stephanie Plum make it a worthwhile and entertaining read.