Bubbles Ablaze
by Sarah Strohmeyer, contemporary (2003)
Headline, 10.99, ISBN 0-7553-0261-3

Bubbles Ablaze is the third book in the author's screwball mystery series starring hairdresser-cum-journalist Bubbles Yablonski.

I am quite disappointed with Bubbles Ablaze as it feels as if the author has taken a few steps backwards with this book. Everything about this book is why I am not too warmed up to Bubbles Unbound (the first book). I love Bubbles In Trouble because the author takes Bubbles out of town into a setting where there are minimal dotty old lady antics and even better, very minimal Steve Stiletto. Here, Bubbles Ablaze is very similar to Bubbles Unbound: crazy old ladies are everywhere in a suspense story that is subpar at most.

In this book, Bubbles has decided to take her chemistry-free relationship with Stiletto to another level - they will meet in a hotel room and have mind-blowing sex. Stiletto, however, is running late. Bubbles gets a fax from her boss at the papers informing her of an urgent press conference at a coal mine nearby, so she dashes off at once. There, she discovers a dead body and a battered-up Stiletto in a jeep belonging to her cousin Roxanne's husband Carl "Stinky" Koolball. After escaping a murder attempt, they both realize that someone want them dead. Also, Stinky is missing, and Bubbles learns that he is way deep in a sinister plot involving many rich and powerful people fighting to get their hands on a prime coal source worth billions of dollars in potential unmined coal. What is a hairdresser named Bubbles to do in this situation?

Oh, this book is funny alright. Apart from some great comedy, one thing I like about this book is that Bubbles, unlike a certain Trentonite bounty hunter always compared to her, shows that she can learn from her mistakes. In this book, she makes the dumb mistake of following a suspect into a deserted church when he beckons, but the next time around, she kicks at the nuts first before asking questions. Unlike that Trentonite bounty hunter, Bubbles has no inconvenient scruples about sneaking through people's drawers for clue. To sum it up, Bubbles is really alright.

It is the mystery plot that does her no favor. The author's plot twists I can see coming a mile away and the resolution has me going "Hmmph, so that's it, huh?". This is a far different reaction from that of mine reading Bubbles In Trouble, where every page is a delightful rollercoaster ride. The rather lacklustre mystery aside, my patience is tried severely by Bubbles' mother and her companion Genevieve. Old women running around with pea guns and poisons shooting at people aren't funny to me. Likewise, other subplots like Bubbles' daughter having a crush on her professor and Bubbles' mother searching for a missing recipe book take up space without adding much value in terms of substance or humor. I mean, I like funny stuff as much as the next person, but I prefer my funnies to be added value to a well-constructed plot instead of substitute to plot.

I may be the only one but I really dislike Steve Stiletto. He's no Joe Morelli. Joe's a chauvinist but it's clear that he also respects Stephanie Plum. Here, Steve is very condescending in his words and actions to Bubbles and some of the things he says to her suggest that he likes her dumb and stupid. There is no respect that I can detect in this story. Steve doesn't hesitate to keep Bubbles in the dark for no reason other than because he could and he seems to enjoy way too much watching Bubbles get jealous over he working with a model-like colleague. In short, he doesn't want a woman equal to him, he wants a breast cushion with long legs, which is all he seems to see Bubbles as. I don't like him, I don't like how Bubbles keep hanging on to him, and I want Bubbles to move on to a man that respects him. [spoiler starts] I'm quite disappointed that the author has Stiletto apparently dead in the last chapter only to revive him in the epilogue. What on earth? I'd rather see Bubbles grieve over him, be strong, and move on to a Hugh Jackman lookalike (memo to Ms Strohmeyer: Mel Gibson is nothing compared to Hugh Jackman) rather to have her hang on to him and let him take her granted again in the next book. Why can't that man die, damn it? [spoiler ends]

On a fundamental level, I enjoy reading Bubbles Ablaze because it is a humorous and fluffy story that is more than adequate to delve into for a few hours worth of entertainment. But I am also disappointed that the author is back on following the footsteps on the path Janet Evanovich blazed through first. What happened? Bubbles In Trouble didn't fly off the shelves and so it's now back to dotty old ladies running amok all over the place? With a mystery/suspense that I find far from compelling, Bubbles Ablaze with all its pluses and minuses remains an adequate fun read but it's a disappointing book nonetheless compared to what Bubbles is really capable of when she's away from the stale and trite stereotypes populating her town.

Rating: 83

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