Alexandra "Barney" Barney - Mechanic & Race Car Driver - Baltimore, Maryland
(Reviewed by Hagen Baye MAY 27, 2004)
Step aside Stephanie Plum, for a while anyway, for Janet Evanovich has a new series character, whom she introduces in Metro Girl. She is Alexandra “Barney” Barnaby, a former grease jockey and racecar driver from Baltimore, a 30-year-old blue eye, platinum blonde (via some bottle) who likes to dress in pink. Evanovich’s fans need not fret that she has abandoned the Stephanie Plum series altogether, as her website announces that Plum #11, Eleven on Top, will be published in June 2005.
Barney and Stephanie are actually quite similar. Both are unmarried woman in their early 30’s from working class families and from blue-collar cities: Barney from Baltimore and Stephanie from Trenton. Both are tough, tomboyish, and real characters. One difference, however, is that Barney has (at least at the beginning of Metro Girl) a steady job and a steady paycheck as a supervisor of claims adjustors for an insurance company. Stephanie, on the other hand, hustles for her money chasing bail jumpers and an assortment of other sleazy deadbeats, and has little by the way of previous work experience of which to be particularly proud—unless one considers a lingerie buyer for a discount store as a position to display with pride on one’s resume.
Metro Girl starts off with Barney getting a frantic 2 AM phone call from her kid brother. With his voice almost drowned out by the din of a boat engine in the background, he yells to his older sister, “I have to leave Miami for a while…. Listen, I don’t want you to worry if you don’t hear from me.” Ominously, he adds, “And if some guys show up looking for me, don’t tell them anything….” The call is punctuated by a woman’s scream. This propels dutiful sister Barney down to steamy Miami from chilly Baltimore to save her fun-loving, women-chasing brother, known to all as “Wild” Bill, from whatever trouble he now has gotten himself into.
Upon her arrival in Miami, Barney’s concern for her brother’s safety rises when she finds his pad thrashed twice, once before and once after her arrival; a witness says the first visitors appeared to be Cuban, the second Caucasian. In between the thrashings, she herself is mugged in the apartment by some huge, scary goon, who threatens her with harm unless she tells him where her brother is. The guy says that Bill had a woman who “belonged” to his boss. (She escapes from the goon, whom she christens “Puke Face,” by utilizing her ingenuity in a way Stephanie would admire.) Barney is further alarmed by the news that a security guard at the marina from which Wild Bill departed was murdered around the time Bill took off.
It turns out that Wild Bill sailed with a boat, a 65 foot Hatteras Convertible, “borrowed” from NASCAR driver Sam Hooker. Barney bumps into Hooker at the marina and he is as desirous of finding Wild Bill as she. Hooker wants to wring Bill’s neck for taking his boat despite his telling Bill under no uncertain terms that he could not. Hooker wants the boat, called the Happy Hooker no less, for a Caribbean vacation cruise before the upcoming racing season and even hired Wild Bill to captain it for that trip. (During that frantic 2 AM phone call, Bill had also instructed Barney that if Hooker called to tell him that he could “kiss my exhaust pipe.”)
Barney has little choice but to team up with Hooker to search for her brother. They eventually learn that Wild Bill had taken off with a young Cuban woman, Maria Raffles, whom he had rescued from a Cuban mobster, Luis Salzar, Puke Face’s boss, who had abducted her. Barney and Hooker learn that Salzar suspected that Maria knew where a long lost treasure of gold and a warhead could be found. These items were in the process of being smuggled out of Cuba at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, over 40 years prior, by Maria’s grandfather when he was killed and his boat sank. Maria’s father had discovered the underwater location when he recovered his father’s remains, but he kept it secret because soon thereafter he was thrown into a Cuban prison where he still remained. Maria learned the location from her mother when she was on her deathbed. Besides Salzar’s mob, a super secret US agency (so secret that one of its agents tells Barney, “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”) was also hot on the trail of the gold and warhead.
Maria’s plan was to recover the gold and use it to ransom her father from prison and to turn over the warhead to the US authorities (not necessarily the agents of the super secret agency whom Barney did not trust) so it could be dismantled and rendered harmless. The warhead contained SovarK2, a nerve agent of indefinite shelf life capable of killing hundreds of thousands and incapacitating millions. Salzar, on the other hand, sought the gold to seal a lucrative Cuban real estate deal and planned to use the deadly warhead as “military leverage” to overthrow Castro and gain political control of Cuba.
The story revolves around the tug of war among the different sides [Barney/Hooker, Salzar/Puke Face and gang, and the agents from the super secret US agency] chasing after the gold and the warhead by land, air and sea, all over southern Florida, from Miami to Key West to Naples, and even to the very coast of Cuba. Barney resorts to such devises as “the old date-rape-pizza-delivery” routine, and she and Hooker are assisted by, among others, several pistol packing Cuban mamas and members of a biker club, all whom are huge NASCAR fans.
Metro Girl represents a solid start to a new series with a strong lead character. The story is very well developed with extremely clever and funny quips interspersed throughout. In particular, the flirtatious banter that develops between Barney and Hooker is not unlike what is carried on between Stephanie Plum and Joe Morelli, and just as entertaining. Metro Girl is a light, fun, enjoyable read. It will leave one looking forward to Metro Girl 2 (slated for publication in March 2006) —and beyond.
- Amazon readers rating: from 115 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Metro Girl at HarperCollins.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Stephanie Plum Series:
- One for the Money (1994)
- Two for the Dough (1996)
- Three to Get Deadly (1997)
- Four to Score (1998)
- High Five (1999)
- Hot Six (2000)
- Seven Up (2001)
- Hard Eight (2002)
- To the Nines (2003)
- Ten Big Ones (2004)
- Eleven on Top (2005)
- Twelve Sharp (2006)
- Lean Mean Thirteen (2007)
- Fearless Fourteen (2008)
- Finger Lickin' Fifteen (2009)
- Sizzling Sixteen (2010)
- Smokin' Seventeen (2011)
- Explosive Eighteen (2011)
- Notorius Nineteen (2012)
- Takedown Twenty (November 2013)
- Visions of Sugar Plums (2002)
- Thanksgiving (2006)
- Plum Lovin' (2007)
- Plum Lucky (2008)
- Plum Spooky (2009)
Diesel Series :
Alexandra Barnaby Series :
The Full Series (written with Charlotte Hughes):
- Full House (1989; re-released 2002)
- Full Tilt (re-released 2003)
- Full Speed (re-released 2003)
- Full Blast (re-released 2004)
- The Grand Finale #254 (1988)
- Thanksgiving #289 (1988)
- Manhunt #303 (1989)
- Ivan Takes a Wife #343 (1989, re-releasing as Love Overboard 2005)
- Naughty Neighbor #537 (1992)
Elsie Hawkins Series:
- Back to the Bedroom #363 (1989)
- Smitten #392 (1990)
- Wife for Hire #422 (1990)
- The Rocky Road to Romance #460 (1991, re-released 2004)
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About the Author:
Janet Evanovich was born in New Jersey.
is the recipient of the Silver Dagger, Last Laugh, Lefty, and John Creasey Memorial awards and the two-time recipient of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's Dilys Award. She had lived in New Hampshire for many years but now she lives in Florida.