Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum Series #21)

Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum Series #21)

3.7 339
by Janet Evanovich

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Don’t miss Janet Evanovich’s short story “Pros and Cons” in the back of the book.

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…  See more details below


#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Don’t miss Janet Evanovich’s short story “Pros and Cons” in the back of the book.

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.

Praise for Top Secret Twenty-One
“The combination of biting dialogue, outrageous characters and intense story lines are consistent throughout. And [Janet Evanovich] novels are the true definition of a guilty pleasure.”—Associated Press
“Evanovich doesn’t disappoint. . . . [She] weaves setting, family, romance and crime to pull the plot of Top Secret Twenty-One forward.”Bookreporter

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The combination of biting dialogue, outrageous characters and intense story lines are consistent throughout. And [Janet Evanovich] novels are the true definition of a guilty pleasure.”—Associated Press
“Evanovich doesn’t disappoint. . . . [She] weaves setting, family, romance and crime to pull the plot of Top Secret Twenty-One forward.”Bookreporter

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Stephanie Plum Series , #21
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Random House
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3 MB

Read an Excerpt


I was perched on a barstool in a dark, noisy, overpriced ­restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey. I was wearing a red dress that was too tight, too short, and cut way too low. And I was wearing an earbud that connected me to a guy named Ricardo Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger.

My name is Stephanie Plum. I usually work as a bond enforcement agent for my cousin Vinnie, but tonight I was moonlighting as a lookout for Ranger. Ranger was stalking Emilio Gardi, a man many considered to be untouchable. Gardi had friends in high places, an army of thugs guarding his body, and money to burn, and his enemies tended to disappear without a trace. He was currently facing a racketeering charge in Miami, but he’d decided to keep his dinner date in Jersey rather than attend his court hearing in Dade County. This meant that the idiot who’d been dumb enough to post a bond for Gardi was out big money unless Gardi was dragged back to jail. The idiot happened to be Ranger’s cousin.

Ranger owns Rangeman, a small high-­tech, high-­end ­security firm. Ordinarily Ranger doesn’t do bond enforcement, but tonight he was making an exception. He was standing off to the side at the entrance to the dining room, and he was watching Gardi.

Gardi was wearing a tan sports jacket over a shirt with red and yellow flowers printed on it—­the South Beach–­meets–­JCPenney look. He was in his fifties. He was balding. He was built like a fireplug. He was drinking red wine and eating rack of lamb, having a good time, entertaining three other men who were laughing too hard at his jokes.

Ranger was in his usual black—­a perfectly tailored black suit, and a black dress shirt open at the neck. The Glock at the small of his back was also black. Ranger’s body is perfect. His hair is very dark brown. Cut short. His eyes are dark brown and intense. His skin is the color of hot chocolate, the lucky result of his Latino ancestry. His earbud matched his skin tone and was barely detectable.

Standing beside Ranger was a guy named Tank. Tank is big and solid and lethal. He’d been with Ranger’s unit in Special Forces, and now he’s second in command at Rangeman and watches Ranger’s back.

I didn’t see any of Gardi’s henchmen. They’d waited for him to take his table and then left the room.

“The room is clean,” I said to Ranger via the earbud.

Ranger moved forward, his gaze never wavering from his quarry. Eye of the tiger. I’ve seen him focus like this on other takedowns, and it always raises the hair on my arms and at the nape of my neck.

Tank was steps behind him, surveying the rest of the room. Ranger unbuttoned his jacket to get better access to his gun and handcuffs. He stopped behind Gardi, put his hand on Gardi’s shoulder, and said something to him, close to his ear.

Gardi shrugged Ranger away, said something I couldn’t hear, and everyone at the table laughed.

Ranger didn’t laugh, and even at a distance I knew things were about to get ugly. Ranger made another civil attempt, Gardi got angry and brushed him off, and in one swift move Ranger snatched Gardi out of his chair like a wolverine rooting out a groundhog.

In a heartbeat Gardi’s head was smashed onto the table, everyone grabbed their drinks, and Ranger cuffed Gardi behind his back and handed him over to Tank. Ranger told the table he was sorry for the intrusion and followed Tank and Gardi out of the room. The whole episode had taken maybe a minute.

A Rangeman vehicle idled in front of the restaurant, ready to take Tank and Gardi back to Rangeman headquarters in center city Trenton. In the morning Gardi would be escorted onto a plane and extradited to Miami.

My job done, I turned back to my black sambuca. Okay, I know they put food coloring in the sambuca to make it black. Don’t care. It’s sexy. And I swear the black tastes better. I guess I could also say that about Ranger. Not that he’s my boyfriend or anything, but we have had a moment.

I downed the sambuca, paid my tab, and went outside to meet up with Ranger. The Rangeman SUV was pulling away, and Ranger was waiting for me beside his black Porsche 911 Turbo.

“Babe,” he said.

“Babe” covers a lot of ground for Ranger. It can be a simple greeting, or a warning that a tarantula is sitting on my shoulder. Tonight it came on the heels of a full body scan, and I was pretty sure it suggested he liked my dress.

Ranger slipped an arm around me, leaned close, and kissed me. The kiss was a further indicator that he liked the dress. In fact, the kiss suggested that while he liked the dress a lot, he wouldn’t mind getting me out of the dress as soon as possible. And I was thinking that was a great idea. Fortunately we were in Princeton, and my apartment was at least a half hour away if the traffic was moving. I was going to need that time to talk myself out of sleeping with Ranger.

Ranger keeps me safe from everyone but himself. He’s the panther stalking the gazelle, keeping all other predators away. He enjoys the hunt. And I enjoy being the gazelle, although truth is I’m more prairie chicken than gazelle.

Ranger’s reflexes are quicker, his brain engages faster, his instincts are far superior than the average man’s. My skin heats under his touch, and his kiss sets delicious things in motion in my body. I know from past experience he’s magic in bed. I also know he has dark secrets that take precedence over personal relationships. And I know it’s in my best interests to keep him at arm’s length.

Plus, I sort of have a boyfriend.

Ranger pulled out of the restaurant lot, stopped for a light, and his hand went to my knee and traveled north.

“Um,” I said.

He cut his eyes to me. “Is there a problem?”

“Your hand is moving up my leg.”


“We’ve talked about this.”

“Not lately,” Ranger said.

“Has anything changed?”


“Well, then.”

“Is that a definite ‘Well, then’?”

“Afraid it is.”

“Too bad,” Ranger said.

Thirty minutes later, Ranger parked behind my apartment building and walked me to my door.

“Call me if you get lonely,” he said.

“I have you on speed dial,” I told him.

A barely perceptible smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, he gave me a light kiss, and he left.

Truth is, I would have liked to invite him in, but that wouldn’t have been the smart thing to do. Not that I always do the smart thing, but tonight I’d managed to keep from grabbing him and ripping his clothes off. Two points for Plum.

I let myself into my apartment and went to the kitchen to say hello to my hamster, Rex. Rex lives in an aquarium on my kitchen counter and sleeps in a soup can. He was running on his wheel when I looked in on him.

“Hey,” I said. “How’s it going?”

Rex blinked his round black eyes at me and twitched his whiskers. That’s about as complicated as our conversations ever get. I dropped a peanut into his cage and he jumped off his wheel, shoved the peanut into his cheek, and scurried into his soup can with it.


My cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds office is on Hamilton Avenue. It’s a one-­story storefront building with some parking spots by the back door. Vinnie has an inner office where he hides from people he’s stiffed, pissed off, infected with herpes, or previously incarcerated. Vinnie looks like a weasel in a pimp suit. His wife, Lucille, is a saint. His father-­in-­law, Harry the Hammer, owns the agency and didn’t get his nickname because he was a carpenter.

Connie Rosolli, the office manager and guard dog, was at her desk when I walked in.

“How’d it go last night?” she asked.

“It was good. Ranger walked up to Gardi, yanked him out of his chair, and cuffed him. Very smooth.”


“That was it.”

“No naked Ranger in your bed?”


“Disappointing,” Connie said.

Tell me about it. “Anything new come in for me?”

“I have a failure-­to-­appear. High money bond. Jimmy Poletti.”

“He owns all those car dealerships, right? He shoots his own commercials. ‘Make a deal with Jimmy!’ ”

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Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum Series #21) 3.7 out of 5 based on 10 ratings. 339 reviews.
Softtail98 More than 1 year ago
Where is the Magic?! I am an avid Janet Evanovich and Stephanie Plum fan. I have been since the very first book and I have looked forward to each new book. And the previous statements  set the tone for this review. Kind of like " you look great" (American Idol) or, 'did you have fun?" (So You Think  You Can Dance) right before they tell what they really thought of the performance. All of the elements were there (SPOILER ALERT!!!).  Stephanie is broke. Stephanies' apartment gets bombed/set on fire.  She wants dangerous Ranger but sleeps with hot Morelli. Her car is trashed so she gets Big Blue. Ranger gives her a porche to drive and it's blown up.   Bob eats something he's not suppose to and barfs it up. Grandma and her funerals. Lula and her trashy clothes and big gun she can never find. Stephanie blunders through, get's injured but ultimately, it all comes out right. These points are in every book, almost in a specific order and I wonder... has one of my favorite series run it's course?  I kept waiting for the magic to reach out and grab me and it didn't.   Waiting impatiently for the new book to come out and paying almost $12 for an ebook and feeling let down. How sad and disappointing.  I don't know where Ms Evanovich can take the series and what she can do, if anything, to bring back the magic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't bother reading this book...its obvious no effort is put into writing them any longer & J Evanovich doesn't know how to honorably end a series. I completely regret reading it. The only big surprise was the book was released on time for once...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am disappointed with this book! It's the same story and no change with the characters. I personally feel that ranger has outgrown the stephanie plum series. I think a series involving ranger should be started without stephanie in it. I like stephanie and morelli together, but i feel stephanie should grow up and appreciate him more. The plum series should let morelli have more action as a cop. Please make the series better or end it.
spiffytgm More than 1 year ago
While the book did have some funny moments, it was disappointing.  Most of the usual characters were there, or at least mentioned. It seemed like the ending was phoned in, and the big question (you all know the one) left a bitter aftertaste.  three stars because there were some laugh out loud moments, but they were balanced out by the way too predictable moments.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry but I have to agree with the other comment about it being disappointing. She needs to make a decision and let either Joe or Ranger move on. This series is getting old and stale wich is disappointing as I loved these books until about 12. Please make Stepahine grow up
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I debated whether purchasing this book since I have read all the previous ones.  However, I think I am done.  After reading the reviews it seems to be the same plot as previous books.  How many times can you laugh at Grandma Mazur going to  a funeral., or at Lulu trying to dig in her purse for her gun while she is eating.  You would think that after twenty books Stephanie would have made a little money and gained some experience.  Apparently she is still bumbling around trying to catch the bad guys.  And the love triangle?  Come on now.  Not to mention another fire?  I am done.  Apparently nothing original here.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first and second book in the series started of with a bang.  The series began with a more serious story-line but has become repeated 'fluff'.  Although Janet is an excellent  writer, this series is just 'more of the same'.  Stephanie started as a 'Kick a--" heroine in the fist books, but has become somewhat of a joke, rather than  getting tougher. I will start on Janet's newest series, hopefully it is a little more thrilling and less fluff. My entire book club has moved on to other series.  
XXXOOOBookwormOOOXXX More than 1 year ago
Bob eats everything, Lula in her spandex always craving for junk food, domesticated Morelli (or as somebody called him Borelli) with his heartburn, another looser staying in Stephanie's apartment, weird animals, a skip, who stole some junk food and who's clothes doesn't fit, Ranger's car is exploded, Stephanie swipes her mascara, craves junk food at the most inappropriate time, lusts after Ranger but sleeps with Morelli, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and if you are out of ideas just bring in a bad Russian guy. That was funny. "Vlatko is much common name in Russia" (per Leo). Yeah, right. There is no name Vlatko in Russia, but it's commonly used in Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia. I've been a huge Stephanie Plum fan from the very beginning. I've read a few that didn't exactly ring my bell, but this one did. I love the play between the characters, it's so entertaining. I always look forward to reading what Stephanie has gotten into next!  Lula was far more interesting in the first books, before she quickly degenerated into a two dimensional slap-stick aid, only useful for achieving desired wordcount, to turn this crappy one paragraph plot into a novel-sized read. Have I come to the end of this paragraph, well, since it's short, Lula probably wants a doughnut.  I have often wondered how an author can write over twenty books about the same characters, and still keep the story fresh. And this one started a bit slow... Frankly, I could have written the first two chapters myself. However, once we got to the guy on the roof, Grandma's "bucket list", Stephanie's unwelcome roommate, and the "minions" - I knew we had a winner!! And, of course we have the requisite car bombings (I'd hate to be Ranger's insurance guy), visits to the funeral home and Cluck-in-a-Bucket, an unholy alliance between Lula and Grandma M., and Bob the dog taking over the starring animal role (minions aside) from Rex the wonder hamster, adding up to be one of the best Stephanie Plum offerings EVER. Keep 'em coming Ms Evanovich!   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I thought this book was better than the last few, it was still pretty predictable. A few good laughs and at least more content.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a great day because I got to spend it with my favorite characters. I enjoyed every minute.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I gave the book a chance even after all the bad reviews. Sad to say, I agree with them. Its the same stuff as before, nothing changes. It also brings back the duffis sleazball Randy Briggs. When I saw he was in another book, I was really annoyed. I can say without question, I laughed maybe once and it was only a slight chuckle. Same old stuff as all the other books. Nothing new.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
what happened to the spunky stephanie, her grandma and her crazy stuff she did? and joe and ranger no hot romance. the last 2 books real borning. yeah they a little bit here and there but not like in her other books.i was disppointed.ok read.
readerjunkie1CM More than 1 year ago
Too much of the same-old-sameold.... after 21 books character development is needed. Stephanie needs to grow up and make a choice between Morelli or Ranger (I think Morelli is the best choice for her). I agree that Ranger should  have his own series without Stephanie. Either educate Lula and dress her in clothes that fit or write her out. At least she isn't eating every second in this book. Please grive Grandma another hobby besides attending viewings. Can Stephanie  stop having cars that get stolen or blown up. And please stop  Please change or just end the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The series is going no where fast. The author either need to make some real progress in the overall series plot or end it. After almost 20 years and 21+ books we should have better character depth than this. I already skipped several books due to poor online reviews. I dont think i will read any more of this series until i know it is ending. Extremely disappointing read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a little better than they have been for a while.  However, its the same story which is getting a little tiresome.  Let Stephanie learn from her previous experiences...please.  Spoiler alert...also, its getting old that Ranger saves her life and then she goes home with Morelli every single time.  The first 10 made me laugh out loud, but they just haven't been that funny in a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Liked this one better than Twenty. I like that we are finding out more about Ranger. I love all the books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of the Stephanie Plum series, this one is funny, but her previous Plum  books are laugh out loud and snort funny!! I always  think of Lulu as a,  buxom  Wanda Sykes! I love Ranger and wish he would get more time on paper! All of the characters are funny even  the animals.  A good and fun read.  Can't wait for the next one. 
quaintinns More than 1 year ago
TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE, another Winner by Janet Evanovich! Have read all twenty-one books in the series, and each and every one is full of action, wit, and hours of laughs. Always fun to catch up with Stephanie, Joe, Ranger, Lulu, Grandma Mazur and the gang! Lorelei King nailed it as narrator, once again! I am ready for another movie! Not sure about other fans—I am not so much concerned about the story, I buy the audiobook, to be entertained, and TOP SECRET TWENTY ONE does not disappoint, with the hilarious one-liners! The Plum series is my favorite, and will always root for Joe Morelli, as the hottest cop with his faithful dog Bob. Yeah, Yeah, I know everyone wants Stephanie and Ranger action; however, he controls her with his constant tracking and Joe/Stephanie are a better match for long term. (not sure she will ever choose) As Stephanie is in search of Jimmy Poletti things get complicated when a killer is involved—Stephanie has to use Briggs, Ranger enlists Stephanie’s help, while we get to experience the fun funeral home viewings, and Grandma Mazur’s bucket list, plus much more for a lazy day at the beach!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book read in 2 days however I always wish there was more Ranger :-)
babbette44 More than 1 year ago
I was skeptical about purchasing this because #20 was so lame but the pace had picked up and excitment was taking place within the story. Not enough of Ranger and Morino but hey they were still sexy in the small part they played. Becky Wichita, KS
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stephanie and Lula keep me entertained. But I really do wish that instead of her being with Morelli all the time that she ends up with Ranger!!!
AmyHiggs More than 1 year ago
The Stephanie Plum novels are always good for a laugh. Okay yes, there are a lot of the same elements as in the previous novels but sometimes I just need a light, fun read and Janet Evanovich never disappoints me. I will always love Ranger and as long as this series continues I will keep reading them! 
Poutounk More than 1 year ago
I have read ALL the Stephanie Plum Series, some I adored, some I liked and some that disappointed me. This one goes into "I liked". Fun, a little different, a lot of Ranger (not much Morelli), too much Lula.
TINKERBELLREADS More than 1 year ago
Stephanie gets in and out of trouble, it's Ranger or Morelli to help her out. You don't know which way it will go.
Rebecca1RS More than 1 year ago
I will confess that going into this book I did not expect much. I stopped reading this series after 18 and probably stopped enjoying a couple of books before that however I was pleasantly surprised to find that this one is a total return to form for Ms Evanovich. The recipe is still the same, love triangle with Ranger and Morelli, bad guys, worse guys, crazy grandma, loveable Lula, guns and rocket launchers, disposable cars, and an incompetent Stephanie eventually with life in peril being rescued. Predictable and probably a tad overused. BUT I did not skim any of this book and it felt fresh, funny and back to the Stephanie Plum books of old that hooked me in the first place. The pace was good and flowed. I liked the hints that Ranger gives of a possible deeper relationship with Stephanie. I liked Joe`s banter and his sex toy development. I loved Grandma`s Bucket List. And let`s not forget Crazy Killer Chihuahua`s with demon eyes!! It`s a light fluffy marshmallow read with well-loved characters that was lovely to catch up with. While there was no real development in the series this one did not drag, there are some real funny moments and Ranger just gets better and better. I enjoyed it and would now happily look at the next one. I received a copy from the publisher for a review