Book Review: Top Secret Twenty-One

Gosh, I swear it only feels like yesterday I did the review for Takedown Twenty! Ok, looking back tells me it was in December, so it really wasn’t too long ago.

Oh look, an Australian release cover that doesn’t match the rest of them!

Where to begin? Ok, this was definitely an improvement on the travesty that was Takedown Twenty but that’s kind of like saying that generic brand block cheese is superior to processed cheese slices when neither are the vintage aged cheddar you really want. By the way, that cheese analogy was totally unintentional, even though this series is kind of getting cheesy, but I’ve been craving obscurely branded Tasmanian cheddar lately.

So, what’s going on in this story? Well Ranger is still the guy with the mysterious past that is always vaguely hinted at, except this time a Russian dude with a vendetta is out to destroy him, but not before he toys with him. Morelli pretty much stays the same, investigating some murders that are all connected to Jimmy Poletti who Stephanie is trying to bring in. Lula is still squeezing into her poison green spandex and eating all the food. Grandma Mazur decides she wants to get revenge on crazy Grandma Bella and somewhere in there Stephanie grows up a little, but still remains maddeningly inept. Randy Briggs shows up too.

Wow, that’s embarrassing. I really can’t remember too much of the specifics of the story beyond the bits that stood out, and most of them stood out because they didn’t stand out.

The storyline with Jimmy Poletti felt like it was over too quickly, which meant that Stephanie and Ranger could focus on catching the Russian bad guy that is Ranger’s nemesis. Stephanie does a surprisingly good job of tracking Ranger down after he abandons Rangeman after a chemical attack, suggesting that Evanovich may actually write some growth into Stephanie because after 21 books, the fact that she’s still a bit on the stupid side is getting old. She even has the foresight to pull the fire alarm in a building where the mad Russian plans to release another chemical bomb, thereby making everyone evacuate. Hooray for progress!

But the mad Russian. Vlatko. Is that a Russian name? I don’t think it’s a Russian name. Just because it starts with V and sounds harsh doesn’t mean it’s a Russian name. Although the mad Russian tried to kill with Polonium so that’s a definite Russian link, if not a completely cliched one. If I were a Russian master spy I wouldn’t kill people with a chemical compound that is widely associated with the KGB. His epic showdown fight with Ranger was over in about three seconds. The whole book built them up to be equals with a long and aggravated history and then it’s over in three seconds because Ranger plucks him out of mid air and tosses him off a roof? Argh!

Grandma Mazur’s little fight with Bella. That was kind of fun, although poorly executed. I would have liked to have seen a big showdown between those crazy old bats. Mazur’s little pie in the face revenge was petty, but kind of funny in a way. I’d like to throw a pie into my nemesis’ face one day, mostly because my nemesis is evil and anything that ruins their day I would derive great pleasure from, but seriously, could you imagine the look of surprise on someone who gets hit in the face out of nowhere with a big fat creamy pie? Mazur’s revenge started and ended without any kind of fanfare, and given how crazy both old biddies are it felt like it was mostly just a bit of filler.

Which brings me to the last part of this review and one of the most annoying. A pack of chihuahuas. Apart from me absolutely loathing that word because I have to stop and think about how to spell it every single time, I also can’t stand the yappy little shits and did we really need some more animals on the loose in Trenton? Granted, it’s not as ridiculous as a giant giraffe, but a bunch of chihuahuas that their owner called minions because he thought he was Gru from Despicable Me? Riiight.

All in all, a much better effort than it’s predecessor but not of the quality of the first ten. Hopefully this is a step towards either a concluding story or a resolution of the issues that have plagued the last few books.

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