I am a fan of mystery novels and read a good number over the course of the year. I like a mystery with a strong sense of place and it was this feature that first attracted me to the Stephanie Plum mysteries written by Janet Evanovich. I’ve been reading the series for many years now; I started with the first book, One for the Money. I first read it in 1996, when I was living in Nebraska. The series, set in Trenton, New Jersey, was as far from home as I could imagine. Filled with visits to Italian delis and Polish bakeries, the series were entertaining and clever, with great dialogue and a sense that both a happy ending and a trip to Cluck-in-a-Bucket would cure all of the heroine’s troubles.
21 novels later, I still find the series an easy read, always familiar and entertaining. Though I couldn’t know it when I first began to read the novels, in 2002 I left Nebraska for New Jersey and moved to a house quite near the Chambersburg neighborhood in which Stephanie Plum is working. There was no Cluck-in-a-Bucket but there was Cluck University and it sure looks (and tastes) as described in the books. The bakeries were on nearly every corner and the pizza was Jersey-style and abundant. The streets of the novels, from Nottingham to Olden, were already familiar to me when I arrived.
I don’t live in that part of New Jersey anymore, but I love the books as much as ever. Top Secret 21 was an entertaining read in a month that always feels exhausting. It was a reminder of the things I find charming about my little corner of New Jersey and a welcome respite from the busy back-to-school season.