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Femme Bookend: Stephanie's back to crack us up

Sizzling and spicy?

And really funny. Sizzling Sixteen is Janet Evanovich's latest Stephanie Plum mystery, about a New Jersey girl who's a skip tracer for a bond agency . . .

A what for a who?

She finds people who fail to turn up in court, working for the company that put up their bail. Way it works in wacky America. This time she's looking for a toilet paper liberator.

Paper's gotta be free.

He hates the loo paper in motorway rest stops, so he steals it in protest.

Wait -- I know this girl.

You do. This is No 16 in the series about Stephanie. Everything's family, Hungarian, Italian, yada yada. She works for her sleazy cousin Vinnie, but Vinnie's been kidnapped by mobsters who'll kill him if she doesn't come up with the ransom.

And that's funny?

It's the way she tells 'em. In the first few pages Stephanie and her former-street-ho sidekick Lula track Vinnie to a creepy slum block. "This is scaring the c**p out of me," Lula says. "This is like where Dracula would live if he didn't have any money and was a crackhead."

Vampires took Vinnie?

Of a kind: the blood brothers of the criminal fraternity. Stephanie, Lula and Connie -- Vinnie's three staunch bondswomen -- go on the trail, backed by Stephanie's cop boyfriend Joe Morelli, and her demon lover, Ranger.

What? Them again? Wouldn't you think after 16 books she might have made up her mind and married one?

Yes, the triangle is getting a little tired.

But worth reading?

Wacky fun -- a busload of hobbits, a drug dealer with an alligator guarding his cash, the usual pratfalls and great descriptions ("Eddie Gazarra is a uniformed cop who's married to my cousin Shirley-the-Whiner").

Heh -- that's my cousin too.

It would be a lot more fun if you hadn't read the other 15. But One for the Money, the first in the series, starts shooting as a movie next month, due for release in the autumn, so Stephanie's right in fashion.

Do they save Vinnie, by the way?

With a little gator-aid, and the people of Middle Earth, what can go wrong? > Lucille Redmond