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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Unleashed’

- - Friday, August 9, 2013

UNLEASHED
By David Rosenfelt
Minotaur, $18.08, 320 pages

THE HEIST
By Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Bantam, $14.38, 320 pages

If you are in search of beach books, look no further. David Rosenfelt offers you terrorism and golden retrievers, and Janet Evanovich has produced a cartoon parody of an FBI agent who loves guns and fast food, and dribbles ketchup on her T-shirts. As mysteries, they are pure fluff, and they're fun.

Mr. Rosenfelt's detective, lawyer Andy Carpenter — more or less assisted by dogs Tara and Crash, and a sprinkling of corpses — prevents a national terrorism plot from being put into devastating effect. Dogs are always present in Mr. Rosenfelt's books, reflecting his real-life interest in caring for homeless retrievers, and Ms. Evanovich's Kate O'Hare is probably the kind of agent the FBI hopes it will never have to deal with. In this case, she is in uninhibited pursuit of a glamorous con man called Nicolas Fox, although it is obvious that her personal interest in him exceeds her desire to put him behind bars.

Ms. Evanovich's "The Heist" bounces with ridiculous and ingenious overkill as the diminutive but irrepressible Kate charges from one disaster to another. What makes her even more entertaining is that despite her capacity for spectacular errors, her capers are carried out with the approval of her FBI controllers and with the cooperation of Nick, who is always several steps ahead of the law and knows he will eventually get her into bed, even if it takes her favorite Toblerone chocolate bar on the pillow.

The inventiveness of Nick and the collaboration of Kate are demonstrated in their kidnapping of an unscrupulous Los Angeles lawyer and convincing him he is the captive of Mexican bandits with a taste for torture. The next step is to target a rogue billionaire on a private island in Indonesia, where Kate gets to try out her new wardrobe as a woman of enormous wealth and bikinis to match. One of the most engaging characters in Ms. Evanovich's tale is Kate's father, Jake, a former mercenary who mails his daughter a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with which to beat back pirates.

The book is all humor and almost no sex, although a voluptuous character known as Willie seeks to remedy that while Kate defends her virtue with all the lethal skills the FBI has taught her, which include 16 ways to kill a man with eyebrow tweezers. She uses an AK-47 to discourage two pirates whom she renders unconscious, stripped to their underwear and lying side by side on the ground of the island. In one of her big moments, she blows up a house.

It should be noted that none of these shenanigans discourages Nick. He is the kind of con man who woos her with a gift of a first edition of "The Man Who Would be King" by Rudyard Kipling.

In "Unleashed," Mr. Rosenfelt's central character, the aforementioned Andy Carpenter, relies on law and a sardonic sense of humor to trap his villains, although he does have a sidekick called Marcus whom he describes as the "scariest creature on the planet." Marcus has an enormous appetite for food, says as little as possible apart from "Nyunh," which is a negative, and can demolish two or three adversaries at the same time.

Carpenter is coping with a mysterious Middle Eastern force that is setting up terrorist units around the country to coincide with Memorial Day. The usual slew of suspects are found with bullets in their heads. How Marcus brings about their demise the author wisely doesn't elaborate on. The plot is heavy on court scenes and evidence from corrupt lawyers presided over by a remarkably tolerant judge.

Romance is provided by Andy and his partner Laurie, although you get the impression that his true love is Tara, his golden retriever and constant companion. Crash, a golden retriever injured in a car accident, makes incidental appearances since his favorite and almost only occupation is sleeping. Carpenter muses that Crash is the only dog he has met with the ability to make a reclining chair recline. Taking a walk is a strain on Crash, and it is only a reunion with his rescuer that impels him to wag his tail.

These are two books, with two dynamic lead characters with playful plots (and dogs) to match.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.