Wednesday, October 01, 2003

less than zero

So over the weekend I read Janet Evanovich's Four to Score, the fourth book in the best-selling Stephanie Plum series. Each of the titles have been a little more lame than the one before it, so it's not a priority of mine to continue with reading the other five books that have been published. Among other things, this one involved the lame gimmick of a culprit-figure leaving a series of clues that Stephanie Plum needs to solve. The clues thing has been way-way-overdone, but the weird thing about this book is that it doesn't even give you what the clues are, it just mentioned that there is a clue written down and that it is in code so the Stephanie can't read it. Instead, the clues are a device to get this 6'4" transvestite in on the plot, as he is good at codes and so is able to break them for her.

If you are not familiar with the series, the first title is One for the Money. As far as I can tell, the money for mystery novels is in series, and presumably authors start all kinds of prospective series, only some of which really end up seeming promising enough to extend to multiple novels. If you are going to have a series, you apparently have to have a common theme to the titles. It's fun to walk through the paperback mystery/thriller section in a bookstore sometime and see all of the different motifs that have been used for titles.

So Evanovich writes a book called One for the Money, and it goes over well enough that she writes a second book in the series. What should the title of it be? She calls it Two for the Dough. The title is great for tying the first two books together. As this point, she has three possible title motifs running at once--in terms of specificity, the blue-suede-shoes-lyrics, the numbers-and-the-pursuit-of-money, and just the numbers.

Then comes the third book. She calls it Three to Get Deadly. Nice pun to continue the blue-suede-shoes-lyric, although now she's apparently given up the idea of having all of the titles be also tied to the fact that her heroine is only got into the bounty-hunter business because she lost her job and needs money.

By now, the series is rolling along nicely and Evanovich writes a fourth book. What to do? Now Evanovich can't keep with the numbers and the BSS lyrics, because the next BSS lyric is "Now go, cat, go." Obviously, numbers have a longer potential than a titling motif than song lyrics anyway (or at least if the song is anything other than "American Pie"). The book is titled Four to Score, which completely abandons the blue-suede-shoes lyric but does go back to the for-the-money theme.

The thing that's funny about this title is that it seems like the kind of simple little title that one could come up with on about ten minutes reflection, perhaps while flossing. Not so! Instead, the dedication page of Evanovich's book thanks someone else for figuring the way out of her titling jam: "Thanks to Shannon Hendrix for suggesting the title for this book."

In the subsequent books, Evanovich apparently hasn't had Shannon Hendrix's help, because she has abandoned the four-the-money theme entirely and is going strictly with puns based on the numbers: High Five, Hot Six, and Seven Up. I haven't looked at any of these and so I don't know if they feature any dedications to others for helping come up with the title.

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