Janet Evanovich's One for the Money

The remarkably prolific Janet Evanovich has written 41 books to date and is enormously popular with readers. According to USA Today, there are 30 million copies of her books in print. Evanovich began the Stephanie Plum series in 1994 with One for the Money, a novel that won the British Crime Writers Association’s award for best first novel. One for the Money was also named a New York Times Notable Book for 1994 and was chosen as one of the 100 Favorite Mystery Novels of the 20th Century.

This award-winning book is a combination mystery story and adventure novel. “What I really write,” says Evanovich, “is adventure stories – Indiana Jones in Trenton” (DeCandido 2001, 1629). Evanovich also blurs subgenre boundaries. DeCandido argues that “by taking freely from elements of romance, cozy, and noir, she’s created the heady attraction of Nancy Drew grown up” (2001, 1629).

One for the Money begins with Stephanie Plum – a laid-off lingerie buyer – taking a job as a bounty hunter in her cousin Vinnie’s bail bonding company. Her job is to apprehend Joe Morelli, a local vice cop who has been charged with murder. The job is especially challenging because Plum has had no training for it. The situation is also complicated by the fact that she has known Morelli since grade school.

An incredibly funny novel, One for the Money is written with great style, verve, and gusto. When we first meet Stephanie Plum, she has lost her job, sold most of her furniture to make ends meet, owes serious money to creditors, and has little hope of finding a good job. Even her car has been repossessed. Everything that can go wrong does, yet Plum faces these setbacks with humour, optimism, self-deprecation, and remarkable resiliency. When she finds only a bottle of beer and a few mouldy articles of food in her fridge, she wonders “if nine in the morning . . . [is] too early to drink beer. Of course in Moscow if would be four in the afternoon” (13).

Plum is a survivor par excellence. Evanovich told Publishers Weekly, “I try to give people a sense that there is goodness in all of us. I let them know that people aren’t perfect but, hey, if Stephanie Plum can get through a day, God, anybody could. She lets people know that if you just have some tenacity and a sense of humor you can be a survivor, too” (Cochran 2003, 40). Stephanie’s attitude towards life is both inspiring and infectious.

Plum faces a violent world but does not do so alone. She lives in an area of Trenton, New Jersey called “the burg,” a community of extended families and small-town values. As Plum admits, “There was safety here, along with love, and stability, and the comfort of ritual” (7). Evanovich’s description of life in the burg is heart-warming and funny. Plum’s match-making mother and feisty grandmother are irresistible characters.

Evanovich’s style of writing is animated and witty. With an ear for the perfect turn of phrase and an knack for recognizing life’s absurdities, she keeps her readers smiling in acknowledgement. One for the Money is lively, humorous, and just plain fun.

Cochran, Tracy. “Jersey Janet Takes on the World: The Creator of the Stephanie Plum Series Branches Out.” Publishers Weekly 250, no. 26 (June 30, 2003): 40.

DeCandido, Grace Anne A. “Story Behind the Story: Stephanie Plum as Indiana Jones.” The Booklist 97, no. 17 (May 1, 2001): 1629.

Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money. New York: St. Martin’s, 1994.