The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 26, 2012

Patty Crane: Evanovich lovers have lots of choices

By Patty Crane
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Janet Evanovich's 19th book in the Stephanie Plum series, "Notorious Nineteen," was just released. The timing seemed perfect, because I just finished "Mad River" by John Sandford. It was a good book -- Virgil Flowers is becoming one of my favorite characters. Who else would use a focus group of prisoners to help search for serial killers?

However, my timing was not so perfect, because a lot of people are waiting ahead of me to read "Nineteen." While waiting, I decided to explore some authors from an "If you like Janet Evanovich, try ... " list.

Deborah Coonts' Lucky O'Toole series seems tailor-made for Evanovich fans. Lucky is head of customer relations at a Las Vegas mega casino, the Babylon. It's her job to make sure the guests are happy and to handle any and all situations, and she is ideally suited for the task.

She is a workaholic with a mother who runs a bordello. Her best friend, Teddie, is a female impersonator who looks better in her clothes than she does, and wants to be her boyfriend. Throw in some outrageous characters and a dead body or two and you have a very entertaining series.

There are three Lucky O'Toole titles so far: "Wanna Get Lucky?", "Lucky Stiff" and "So Damn Lucky," which came out this year. The third book in the series finds Lucky undergoing some significant changes in her personal life while preparing for a big Halloween bash that features a Houdini seance and UFO enthusiasts.

The events begin with the final show of the Calliope Burlesque Cabaret. After 40 years, the show is closing and magician Dimitri Fortunoff has a special event planned: Houdini's Chinese water torture cell.

Amid much excitement the tank is examined, and Dimitri is shackled and padlocked inside the chamber of water. Excitement soon turns to restlessness, then anxiety and horror. Something has gone wrong, and Dimitri is dead.

Dimitri was the recipient of several threats. The police are not ready to call his death an accident. But before they can examine the body they have to find it. The paramedics who took Dimitri away have disappeared along with the body.

Was Dimitri's death an accident or homicide? What happened to the corpse, if it even was a corpse? And what does Area 51 have to do any of this? The action doesn't stop as Lucky searches for the truth, while putting out fires and trying to find time for a personal life.

Donna Andrews also made the "If you like Janet Evanovich, try ... " list with her Meg Langslow series. The series rivals the Stephanie Plum series in number, and the latest installment came out earlier this year.

I started with the first book in the series, "Murder, with Peacocks." Meg is a blacksmith by trade, but in this first book her primary job is wedding planner. She has gone home to York, Va., to almost single-handedly put together three weddings.

Meg is the maid of honor for her best friend, Eileen, her brother's fiancee, Samantha, and her mother. No explanation is given why she is responsible for every detail of each elaborate wedding -- a daunting task even with her "tell-me-when-to-breathe" notebook.

When Meg's dad finds one of the wedding guests dead, the sheriff is ready to call it an accident. Meg and her dad disagree and begin their own investigation into what happened to the disagreeable Mrs. Glover.

As Meg and her dad disprove the sheriff'

s theory, suspicious accidents begin to happen. The investigation convinces the sheriff that the death was not accidental, and the suspicious accidents are serious murder attempts. Despite the growing body count, the plans for the weddings move forward.

Meg shepherds her three brides and their attendants through fittings, parties and rehearsals. But can she get them all to the altar before anyone else dies?

Both of these series will entertain Evanovich fans who are waiting their turn to read "Notorious Nineteen."

Not an Evanovich reader? If humor, light mystery and the ridiculous appeal to you, I recommend trying all three authors.


Patty Crane is a reference librarian for the Joplin Public Library.