Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Janet Evanovich’s TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE promises to follow the first 20 Stephanie Plum novels to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Her latest addition is complete with firebombs, feral Chihuahuas, a “freakazoid polonium assassin,” a hamster named Rex, a 1953 powder blue and white Buick Roadmaster, and quirky characters, including two feuding grandmothers.
Over and above her usual work for cousin Vinnie, bond enforcement agent Stephanie Plum moonlights as a lookout for Ricardo Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger, in this mystery/adventure set in the Burg, a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey. While struggling to earn a living by capturing “scumbags” who have missed their dates in court, Stephanie slams into the middle of a top-secret mission involving the FBI. She lands at the scene of an international showdown and gets a little blood on her.
Stephanie deals with death threats, Grandma Mazur, and trained assassins as she follows leads and dead bodies to catch the skip.
Avid fans look forward to reading Stephanie’s exploits because they’re interested in knowing what’s happening in the lives of her cast of recurring characters. Evanovich doesn’t disappoint in TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE.
"As she is wont to do, Evanovich weaves setting, family, romance and crime to pull the plot of TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE forward."
Lula, Stephanie’s retired hooker friend, rides shotgun for Stephanie on her bounty-hunting adventures, providing comic relief. Briggs, a three-foot-tall man hated by most of the locals, complicates Stephanie’s life. Also featured are Vinnie, Stephanie’s perverted boss; Connie, his secretary; and Stephanie’s two love interests, Joe Morelli and Ranger.
Evanovich’s villains vary, but they are always memorable. In TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE, we meet Vlatko, a stone-cold Russian with a British accent. The Russian thug wears a skull with a flower tattoo on his neck. Ranger, Stephanie’s occasional employer, and Vlatko have history. Ranger put out one of Vlatko’s eyes in a North Korean altercation, making Ranger his archenemy. Stephanie fears Ranger may be in danger. She helps him in his attempt to stop Vlatko from killing an unknown target because she knows that Vlatko won’t rest until either he or Ranger is dead.
Vlatko is not the sole villain. As a bounty hunter, Stephanie hunts for Jimmy Poletti, a failure-to-appear bad guy, implicated in back room deals involving underage girls imported from Mexico.
Evanovich dishes up more than crime in the 21st installment of her numerically titled Plum series. Romantic encounters keep her readers turning the pages. She describes her relationship with Ranger: “The panther stalking the gazelle, keeping all the other predators away. He enjoys the hunt. And I enjoy being the gazelle, although truth is I’m more prairie chicken than gazelle.” Readers love Stephanie because she’s flawed, like us, struggling to be a good person in an imperfect world.
In contrast to her description of the dark, mysterious Ranger, Stephanie describes her relationship with Italian cop Joe Morelli as her “kind of dessert.” He’s a bad-boy hero with a scary grandmother and a drooling dog named Bob.
In TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE, conflicts arise between the two lovers when Morelli finds out that Ranger has put Stephanie in danger.
As always, tasty descriptions enable the reader to visualize settings as she takes us along for an adventure ride: “It was an older hotel that had been expanded, given a fresh coat of badly applied stucco, and painted to resemble a birthday cake. The interior décor was also birthday cake with a splash of Easter basket.”
As she is wont to do, Evanovich weaves setting, family, romance and crime to pull the plot of TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE forward. Does Stephanie capture Poletti? Does Ranger survive his battle with Vlatko? Enjoy the thrilling journey with Stephanie for yourself.
Reviewed by Melody Dean Dimick on June 20, 2014