by Janet Evanovich
Early on in Ten Big Ones, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is dispatched to pick up a usually law-abiding woman who held up a Frito-Lay truck and made off with all the corn chips she could carry. Why? "Apparently she was on that no carbohydrate diet," explains office manager Connie, "and snapped."
Evanovich's series is as addictive as Fritos—and, 10 books in, not losing any of its salty crunch. Sure, the plots are formulaic: While putting away run-of-the-mill miscreants, spunky Jersey girl Plum finds herself on the run from some seriously bad guys, this time a local street gang that wants her dead. (Guess she shouldn't have witnessed a cop shooting by one gang member and run another over with her grandmother's '53 Buick Roadmaster.) But reliably colorful supporting characters provide much of the entertainment value. When transvestite school bus driver Sally Sweet volunteers to serve as Stephanie's sister's wedding planner, he fits right in with the family.
Steph's long-running romantic dilemma (cop Joe Morelli or mysterious mercenary Ranger?) adds well-observed sexy fun. In fact, Steph's best feat of detecting this time out might be her discovery of Ranger's lair—a tastefully furnished, well-guarded apartment with closets full of black clothing, Ranger-scented shower gel that gives Steph impure thoughts and no sign of Ranger himself. "The last two times he took off there was a coup in Central America," notes Lula, Steph's ex-streetwalker sidekick. "I'm going home, and I'm watching CNN."
One quibble: Ten Big Ones wraps up so abruptly readers might feel payoff-deprived. But like a snack manufacturer, Evanovich serves up consistently craveable goodies—and needless to say, they're always perfect for the beach.