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BOOK REVIEW

'Metro Girl' finds adventure (and misadventure) in the Florida sun

Metro Girl, By Janet Evanovich, HarperCollins, 296 pp., $26.95

Everyone has heard of the metrosexual: groomed, clean-shaven, eyebrow-plucked, and waxed -- the man's man of the millennium.

Now meet the metrosexual's antithesis, the Metro Girl. She wears white tank tops and micro-mini hot pink skirts, has sports-bleached blond hair, smokes cigars, descends from helicopters, and can overhaul carburetors.

And she has a knack for falling into wacky circumstances that involve Cuban sunken treasure and a relic from the Cold War.

The girl in Janet Evanovich's latest novel is Alexandra ''Barney" Barnaby, the spunky heroine of ''Metro Girl." The book pays tribute to NASCAR and, like the sport, takes readers (or passengers) on a wild ride.

Barnaby leaves the familiarity of her insurance adjuster's job in Baltimore, where she grew up fixing cars in her father's garage, for Miami's lazy sun-and-fun lifestyle to find her missing brother, the impulsive ''Wild Bill," who has vanished with a Cuban immigrant named Maria.

Arriving at her brother's South Beach apartment, Barnaby encounters Sam Hooker, a.k.a. the NASCAR Guy, a famous race-car driver and owner of a 65-foot boat called the Happy Hooker, which disappeared along with Bill and Maria. Hooker wants his boat back and seems smitten by Barnaby, so he joins her in the search for her brother.

Throw in some cops who want to question Wild Bill about the killing of a security guard at the Miami Beach marina; fast-talking Hooker, who seems as much a celebrity in South Beach as Gloria Estefan or Beyonce; and some bumbling federal agents, and the story takes off.

A romance begins to crank up between Barnaby and Hooker as they scour the Florida coast for Wild Bill, and it's their verbal volleyball that makes the book. The coterie of minor characters, including Bill, Maria, and their friends back in Miami, are stereotypes: There's the gay and sassy sidekick friend with a rainbow-collared dog named Brian and the gun-packing, hot-tempered, Spanglish-speaking Latina cigar roller named Rosa. They tend to distract the reader from Barnaby and Hooker's comical misadventures.

As the pair slink into the bars of South Beach and Key West and then dive in Cuban waters, readers feel they're along for the ride. The more the two search, the more trouble they find. They encounter Cuban hit men, palmetto roaches, leeches, Florida lizards, and flying tranquilizer darts. Most significant, they stumble on a mysterious canister from the Cuban missile crisis.

The book, like the Mini Cooper that Barnaby and Hooker take turns driving, moves at a breezy pace, engaging the reader, even if one of the subplots, a possible overthrow of Fidel Castro, is highly unrealistic.

Evanovich manages to capture the essence of South Beach's Deco decadence and Miami style. ''The planted palms, the flashy buildings, the waterways, the beautiful people, the expensive cars, and international influences add interest to the cityscape," she writes.

Although she makes some small errors (it's Fifth Street, not Fifth Avenue, and Alton Road, not Alton Avenue), her attention to detail and Beach landmarks, such as Monty's restaurant and Joe's Stone Crabs, easily makes up for that.

Though Evanovich occasionally goes into overdrive with automotive metaphors, ''Metro Girl" is fun in the Florida fast lane.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

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