Plum wears thin in latest outing

The barbecue sauce hits the ceiling in “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” ($27.95), Janet Evanovich’s new Stephanie Plum novel.

One reason why fans hunger for the next installment in the Plum series is the familiarity with the characters, setting and comedic mayhem that Evanovich provides in each story. But as funny as “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” is — and it is funny — nothing much changes in Stephanie’s life, and it may be time for her to move on.

Her latest misadventure begins when Lula, her plus-size friend and co-worker at Vincent Plum Bail Bonds (Vinnie is Stephanie’s cousin) in Trenton, N.J., witnesses celebrity chef Stanley Chipolte’s decapitation by meat cleaver.

Chipolte is famous for his barbecue sauce, and the company that he was representing in a national cook-off being held in Gooser Park is offering a $1 million reward.

Lula figures Chipolte was whacked by a jealous competitor, so she enters the contest to get the inside track. Problem is, she has to create her own sauce, and Lula lacks basic cooking skills. After a fiery grilling mishap — a half-dead maple tree at the back of the yard “went up like Vesuvius” — Lula moves the operation to Stephanie’s kitchen.

She cranks up the heat on a pressure cooker and kapow! the lid blows off the pot, sending barbecue sauce everywhere. (Cleanup in aisle one!)

There are other complications: That handsome, mysterious man in black, Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger, needs Stephanie’s help in a case involving his security firm. It may be an inside job, so he doesn’t trust his own men.

That irritates her on-again, off-again boyfriend — plainclothes cop Joe Morelli — because Ranger is always trying to make a move on Stephanie. Joe and Stephanie have broken up, due to an argument about peanut butter, but Morelli is still jealous.

As usual, things don’t go smoothly for Stephanie. Her car becomes a fireball, and she’s menaced by some guys in one of Trenton’s seedier neighborhoods. It’s gun-toting Grandma Mazur to the rescue.

She also finds herself coated in various substances, including paint and flour. “I honestly don’t know how you manage to do this,” Ranger says. “It boggles the mind.” She even agrees to wear a hot dog-and-bun costume for the barbecue contest.

Read “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” for the laughs, not the plot. And let’s hope Stephanie’s next adventure will be a little less predictable.

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