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Hot Six Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In her characterization of Stephanie, Evanovich parodies a stereotype that dates back to the 1930s. Through absurd humor, Evanovich asserts that the traditional depiction of the private investigator and bounty hunter as hard-boiled heroes is both naive and sexist. From film noir to the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Mickey Spillane, the audience is presented with a brave hero who faces corrupt police officers and vicious criminals alone, and ensures that justice prevails against all odds. The critic Sally Munt, writing in Murder by the Book? Feminism and the Crime Novel (1994), describes this hero perfectly:

The low-lit, monochromatic, American film noir of the 1940s springs to mind, with its city of mystery and shadows, violence and vengeance. Through the mist steps the messianic "man in the mac," dispenser of commonsense justice, alone in his mission. The image is archetypal—the warrior knight, the tough cowboy, the intrepid explorer—he is the representative of Man, and yet more than a man, he is the focus of morality, the mythic hero. He is the controlled centre surrounded by chaos, and an effective reading must involve identification with this mediator of action, truth, and finally pleasure and relief through closure.

Against this mythic hero, Evanovich's Stephanie Plum is distinctly unheroic, a woman with very human failings and concerns. Her job is not the glamorous job of the heroic cowboy explorer, full of derringdo. Very often, it consists of finding someone who has forgotten her court appearance and taking her to the police station to reschedule, somewhat like a legal taxi service. Evanovich has Stephanie comment on the difficulties of surveillance: trying to stay awake against the boredom of watching nothing happen, and the problem of needing to go to the toilet while on a stakeout. While the hard-boiled hero gets shot or beaten up, Stephanie has to deal with a pimple on her chin. Like Chandler's Marlowe, sometimes during a case, Stephanie feels the need to drink, but unlike Marlowe, she drinks her whisky in her cocoa with her grandmother and becomes violently ill the next day. It is hard for the reader to identify with the mythic detective heroes on a personal level, as the reader cannot imagine being able to do what they do in the course of the investigation. Conversely, readers may find it easy to identify with Stephanie Plum, and Evanovich has a great eye for noticing the little problems in life that cause so much stress and anguish. This point is best exemplified during that most heroic of film noir moments, the stand off with the villain.

We both had guns drawn, standing about ten feet apart.

"Drop the gun," I said.

[Homer Ramos] gave me a humorless smile. "Make me."

Great. "Drop the gun, or I'm going to shoot you."

"Okay, shoot me. Go ahead."

I looked down at the Glock. It was a semiautomatic, and I owned a revolver. I had no idea how to shoot a semiautomatic.

I knew I was supposed to slide something back. I pushed a button and the clip fell out on the carpet.

Homer Ramos burst out laughing. . . . I threw the Glock at him.

This is not to suggest that Stephanie is without skills; indeed, she escapes captivity and torture at the hands of the hitmen Habib and Mitchell, as well as repeatedly gives her various pursuers the slip. Furthermore, Stephanie does not feel a macho need to face things alone and, in Joe Morelli and especially Ranger, she has help who make hard-boiled heroes look average. This does not mean that Stephanie's partnership with either is a partnership that approaches equality: both Ranger and Morelli milk Stephanie for what she knows, while offering little or nothing in return. Evanovich takes delight in depicting Stephanie's struggles for information and for professional respect against these two, in which Stephanie sometimes comes out on top. In describing the struggles for professional respect, Evanovich shows Stephanie battling against the sexism implicit in Burg society, as both Morelli...

(The entire section is 1,076 words.)