A few good laughs and some high stakes make for a better adventure than usual for this aging series.
Posted by Jason Venter (October 12, 2016)
I wish that I could read a new Stephanie Plum story and enjoy it as effortlessly as I did the early installments, but those days are long gone. Instead, I can typically expect a good story that amuses me but also leaves me wishing for better. "Top Secret Twenty-One," a recent installment in the series, lived up to lowered expectations.
There are two basic plot strands, yet again. Janet Evanovich seems to have settled on that approach, and it more or less works. Here are two stories that wouldn't carry a novel on their own, but combined they manage to keep the reader idstracted and sometimes entertained.
The first plot involves a local car dealer who was arrested for human trafficking but somehow was let out of jail and then skipped out on his bond. So of course, Stephanie is involved, since she works as a bounty hunter. As an added bonus, she gets to help a recurring character from past books, Randy Briggs. He is a little person who no one seems to like. He also worked as a bookkeeper for Poletti and now knows too much information, so his life expectancy isn't all that great unless Stephanie can successfully find her quarry.
A second plot ties into Ranger's ongoing adventures. He is about to return a man to Florida when something goes horribly wrong at RangeMan. Apparently, someone wants to kill Ranger, and isn't afraid to potentially kill a lot of other innocent people in the process. So Ranger needs help getting to the bottom of that, and he figures Stephanie is just the woman for the job.
Add to those two key plots a bunch of side nonsense and you have another novel's worth of adventures. A lot of them feel ridiculously familiar by now, and that robs them of some of their entertainment value, but I did laugh at a few points and that was a pleasant surprise.
I think at this point that to enjoy the Stephanie Plum novels (the recent ones, I mean), you have to be in a certain mood and you have to be willing to put up with a certain amount of retread. If you can't do that, you aren't likely to enjoy this new story. But if you're ready to check your brain at the door and just have some fun with your favorite fictional characters, "Top Secret Twenty-One" is a reasonably enjoyable option. You're probably still best off if you can find it from the library, though, or if you can get a cheap copy second-hand or on clearance. The publisher's MSRP is a bit much.
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