Having said that, though, I tend to avoid books with female protagonists. Not because I dislike women or anything, but because, as a man, I find a woman main character hard to identify with, for the most part.
It’s an old joke that men and women don’t understand one another, but it’s old because it’s true. And reading a book that is told predominantly from the POV of a woman generally doesn’t appeal to me because I’m afraid half or more of won’t speak to me (to use a phrase I generally don’t like).
But then I picked up a Janet Evanovich novel. Why? Well, I was browsing the New Books shelf at my local library and they had one. I’d seen Ms. Evanovich’s novels plenty of times. It’s hard to avoid them, as many as she has out. And I was aware that they were mysteries or crime fiction of some kind, but I’d never really picked one up. Out of curiosity, I opened the one on the shelf to see how it started and within a few lines decided she’d hooked me enough I wanted to find out more.
But I have this thing about a series: I don’t wanna start out reading the latest book. I did that at first, but then when I manage to get hooked, I don’t like knowing what’s happened ten books down the line. So, these days, when I see a series I think might be interesting, I go back and read them in order.
There’s another reason I do this, too: maybe they can hook me on their latest book, but can they hook me with their first book? This is my litmus test for a series author. Who wants to devote a lot of time to reading every book in a series if too many of them are duds? Of course, like any litmus test, it’s not foolproof. It didn’t work very well for Michael Connelly. His first Harry Bosch novel didn’t do a lot for me initially, but for some reason I went ahead a few months later and read the second one and wondered why I hadn’t seen how good a writer this guy was first time out.
It happens that way sometimes.
But not with Janet Evanovich. Her protagonist is one Stephanie Plum, who is, of all things, a bounty hunter. That in itself is intriguing. How can a woman be a bounty hunter? Doesn’t that take brute strength and all that?
Well, okay, maybe those sound like chauvinistic questions, but they’re still good questions. I’m a big guy, and I don’t think I’d want to be a bounty hunter. After all, you’re going after people who don’t want to get caught. That means they’re generally dangerous, and they won’t appreciate you apprehending them
But Stephanie Plum proves you don’t have to be all brawn to do this job successfully, and I think that’s where her appeal lies. I don’t know if that means she’s the exception to the “rule” or if she just proves the rules are outdated, but it doesn’t really matter. To steal a part of Nora Roberts’s blurb on the cover, Stephanie is “…tough, vulnerable, resourceful, and impulsive.” Not to mention snarky with equal measures of confidence and self-doubt.
What’s not to like?
Stephanie takes the bounty hunter stereotype and turns it on its ear. Admit it, when you think of a bounty hunter, you think of a big tough man. Hell, I’ve been man enough to admit it. Stephanie falls into this vocation by accident and finds she’s good at it. No, she doesn’t know a lot about guns. Or tracking down fugitives. Her beloved Mazda Miata gets repossessed not far into the story and she ends up driving a beater Nova the EPA would probably condemn as a toxic waste dump. She tries tracking down the guy she’s after, Joe Morelli, in high heels and a skirt in order to look more professional. She’d rather use the pepper spray in her purse than her S&W .38.
And she worries that her hair doesn’t look right.
Interested? You should be. All these things make her an individual, not just another character stamped out of some mold. Halfway through the debut novel One For the Money¸ I think maybe I’m hooked on this character and I want to read more of her adventures.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be willing to give more female protagonists an even chance.