Top Secret Twenty-One

Top Secret Twenty-One_JanetEvanovich_19004663

ROCKETS, KNIVES AND MINIONS

3 STARS

Either Janet Evanovich has been listening, at least in part, to her readers or, for this entry, she used an unnamed co-writer who has been listening. For the first time in nine Stephanie Plum novels, I found myself laughing spontaneously every few pages. The usual inane vaudevillian scenarios are absent from the plot line. Lula and Grandma Mazur are real, believable people rather than slapstick caricatures. And Stephanie is not portrayed as a bumbling, insecure, inept idiot.

The writing is crisp, with a cadence unlike any Evanovich book I’ve ever read. The sentences are short and declarative. The fragments of sentences are clear and clean. And a staccato style gives maturity to the volume itself and to Stephanie, in particular. Evanovich may have prepared the story’s outline, but it truly feels like someone else did the writing.

However, regardless of the book’s provenance, some things have not changed. As usual, Stephanie’s car gets destroyed. As usual, Stephanie’s apartment gets bombed and burned. As usual, Ranger’s Porsche is decimated. As usual, the word “Babe” comes out of Ranger’s mouth every third sentence he speaks. And – as usual – nothing changes in the love triangle.

As far as the storyline goes, three subplots are woven together like a braid. First, Jimmy Poletti has missed a court date on a human trafficking charge and Stephanie must bring him back in. Secondly, someone is trying to kill Randy Briggs, a character who has been in several previous series entries. Briggs just so happens to be Poletti’s accountant and he runs to Stephanie for help. Thirdly, Poletti’s weekly backroom poker buddies are coming up missing or dead with an alarming frequency and Stephanie seems to be finding the bodies at the same alarming frequency.

And someone wants Ranger dead. In fact, this person wants Ranger dead so badly that he attempts to infuse the Rangeman facilities with a radiation-based aerosol poison. He does not succeed in infecting Ranger but there is collateral damage.

The different plots blend, separate and re-converge several times throughout the book as Stephanie, Morelli and Ranger find themselves up to their proverbial eyeballs in sharp knives, shoulder-launched rockets and tell-tale hearts. Frankly, this 21st entry in the series comes off more like a cozy than anything else. Some elements are a bit comedic, but nothing is really outlandish or begging for a suspension of disbelief. And there is definitely not a lot of whining, graphic sex, gory corpses or emotional baggage displayed.

Even though there seems to be some noticeable improvement with this entry, I will still continue to get Evanovich books through my library system. Simply put, Evanovich will have to demonstrate considerable advancement in character growth, book-to-book chronology and the romantic element before I will ever put my reading dollars directly into her coffers again.

Cover Art From Goodreads

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