OK, once again I am woefully late to the party. Scribner published this first novel in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series in June 1994. To date, there are 20 numbered books with a few “between the numbers” holiday novellas and novels. Top Secret Twenty-One is due out in June, 2014. Of course, I live in a cave, so I didn’t even know about the New Jersey bounty hunter and her band of delightfully quirky friends and relatives until my neighbor mentioned the books to me a few months ago. She said they were “hilarious.” With seemingly gimmicky titles like One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly and so on, I was a little reluctant. Nonetheless, I’ve always appreciated my neighbor’s sense of humor.
I’ve read eight Stephanie Plum novels so far and I’m hopelessly hooked. I haven’t laughed this much in decades. As soon as I finished the first book, I started reading it again. These books beg to be read aloud, and the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped has done a superb job with them. Most are read by Annie Wauters, but Celeste Lawson reads the first and Dani Carr the second and third. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend with a print disability who will invite you over to have a listen.
Fair warning. Under no circumstances should you listen to these books while driving. First, you’ll need to have quick and easy access to the pause button, and more importantly, it is not safe to drive while you’re laughing so hard that you’re crying and peeing your pants at the same time.
If you need a break from the crime dramas with the well-crafted diatribes on the downfall of the democracy and the unflappable characters with superb competence in highly specialized fields (and trust me, you could use a break), get to know Stephanie. Told in the first person, these novels paint a realistic, endearing and of course hysterically funny portrait of a “girl from the burg,” a working-class Trenton neighborhood. Stephanie, who divorced her sleazy-lawyer ex after finding him on the dining room table with an old classmate, just lost her job and seeks employment at cousin Vinnie’s, where she falls into the world of bail enforcement, FTAs (failure-to-appears) and Trenton’s seedy and all-too-often brutal underbelly.
Evanovich is a master at capturing the relationships within a working class family and neighborhood. It’s something I can relate to. Stephanie’s father is retired from the post office. My Dad was also a postal employee throughout his working life. Mr. Plum is driving cab to get out of the house, while my Dad drove school bus. They both had their mother-in-law living with them, and they both were taciturn and reasonably successful at keeping their mouths shut thanks to the abundance of homemade food to which they could apply themselves.
Most impressive is Evanovich’s skill with dialog. No one does it any better. She also excels at portraying a young woman who is gutsy, honest with herself and who revels in making fun of her native New Jersey, even when she’s in over her head. Oh the laughs I’ve missed. I could have used some back in ’94, but no matter. Better late than never, and I think it’s trimming my waistline.