Friday, August 15, 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One - Janet Evanovich (Bantam - June 2014)

Series: Stephanie Plum (Book 21)

Catch a professional assassin: top priority. Find a failure-to-appear and collect big bucks: top score. How she'll pull it all off: top secret.

Trenton, New Jersey's favorite used-car dealer, Jimmy Poletti, was caught selling a lot more than used cars out of his dealerships. Now he's out on bail and has missed his date in court, and bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is looking to bring him in. Leads are quickly turning into dead ends, and all too frequently into dead bodies. Even Joe Morelli, the city's hottest cop, is struggling to find a clue to the suspected killer's whereabouts. These are desperate times, and they call for desperate measures. So Stephanie is going to have to do something she really doesn't want to do: protect former hospital security guard and general pain in her behind Randy Briggs. Briggs was picking up quick cash as Poletti's bookkeeper and knows all his boss's dirty secrets. Now Briggs is next on Poletti's list of people to put six feet under.

To top things off, Ranger--resident security expert and Stephanie's greatest temptation--has been the target of an assassination plot. He's dodged the bullet this time, but if Ranger wants to survive the next attempt on his life, he'll have to enlist Stephanie's help and reveal a bit more of his mysterious past.
Death threats, highly trained assassins, highly "untrained" assassins, and Stark Street being overrun by a pack of feral Chihuahuas are all in a day's work for Stephanie Plum. The real challenge is dealing with her Grandma Mazur's wild bucket list. A boob job and getting revenge on Joe Morelli's Grandma Bella can barely hold a candle to what's number one on the list--but that's "top secret."

The later Plum books are not as good as the early ones, but it was still an enjoyable read. Stephanie isn't making as many stupid moves as she used to, but she still has her share of bad luck. She's still always broke and in need of a big skip recovery for the fee paid. Her search for Jimmy Poletti isn't going too well. She's been close a couple times, but he gets away. Soon she has one of his associates begging for protection as he becomes the victim of several attacks. Briggs is equal parts annoying and amusing. He's very short and has a rather pugnacious attitude as a compensation. He's very demanding in his expectations, but also very eager to help. There are a couple times that he is actually quite useful. There are a couple interesting twists in the whole Poletti and Briggs story. The reasoning behind the attacks on Briggs was not what I expected.

Lula is still there as Stephanie's sidekick, with her tight clothes, addiction to junk food, and in your face attitude. Grandma Mazur is there and up to her usual tricks, with the addition of a bucket list that she's working on. That list has her in an all out war with Morelli's Grandma Bella that has a couple of funny moments. Her number one item, and how she fulfills that one is probably the funniest moment in the book. Stephanie's relationship with Morelli is still on. He seems to have given up trying to change her, but his issues with her work with Ranger are still there. There's a really good scene with the three of them in his kitchen that sums it all up.

The best part of the book involves Stephanie and Ranger. She begins the book by helping him with a recovery. She's still fighting her attraction to him, carrying on with her loyalty to her relationship with Morelli. But when Ranger ends up as the target of an assassin, Stephanie is really worried about him. I loved seeing her really have a good part in taking the bad guy down. She also gets Ranger to open up with a little more information about his past. We don't get much, but it's a little more insight into what makes him who he is. The takedown of the assassin is well done and not too over the top.

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