Now that I’m all caught up with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (the latest book was Hardcore Twenty-Four and the next book in the series doesn’t come out until next month), I thought I’d go back to reread all the books from the beginning in order to continue my mission to make note of the series timeline and recurring motifs.
One for the Money is the book that first introduced the world to the character Stephanie Plum. It was published August 26, 1994.
The book starts with a look back through Stephanie’s childhood and her dealings with Joe Morelli. She plays choo-choo with him in his father’s garage at age 6. She looses her virginity to him behind the pastry counter at Tasty Pastry when she’s 16 years old. And She runs him over in her car and breaks his leg when she’s 19 and he’s 21.
Present day action is explicitly mentioned as taking place during a sweltering August, when Stephanie is 30 years old.
The action starts on a Sunday, and there are otherwise a few references to days of the week as the story progresses: Day 1 (Sunday), Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 (Wednesday), Day 5, Day 6 (Friday), Day 7 (Saturday), Day 8 (Sunday), Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12. On Day 12, there’s also mention of the fact that she’s been stalked by Ramirez for the past 10 days, which makes sense since she’s met him on Day 3 of the story. Finally, the last chapter flash forwards to 4 days later to present a resolution to the story. Given all this, the main story ends on a Thursday, with the final scene taking place on a Monday.
The main mystery:
What happened to the missing witness? Down on her luck, Stephanie Plum takes a job working for her cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds business. She’s asked to track down police officer, Joseph Morelli, who had been arrested for killing a supposedly unarmed man. According to Joseph’s arrest record, he shot in self defense and there was a witness at the time who since disappeared.
- Joseph Morelli (homicide)
- Clarence Sampson (drunk driving a police cruiser — comes peaceably)
- Lonnie Dodd (auto theft — 22 years old)
- William Earling (indecent exposure — 72 year old lives in Stephanie’s building in 3E)
Cast of (recurring) characters:
- Bond agency employees: Vinnie, Connie, Ranger, (briefly: Morty Meyers)
- Stephanie’s family: Mom (Helen) & Dad, Grandma Mazur, Rex the hamster; Stephanie’s sister Valerie is also mentioned in passing. And her cousin Francie makes a small appearance.
“Two years ago, when Grandpa Mazur’s fat-clogged arteries sent him to the big pork roast in the sky, Grandma Mazur had moved in with my parents and had never moved out.”
- Stephanie’s friends/neighbours/classmates:
- Mary Lou Molnar is featured a lot in the high-school flashbacks.
- Eddie Gazarra has a huge role in this story, being the one who takes Stephanie to the firing range and teaches her how to shoot; he also shows up with coffee and donuts in the morning. Married to Stephanie’s cousin, Shirley the Winer.
- Bernie Kuntz is an appliance salesman that Stephanie’s parents try to set her up with.
- The book also features a first appearance of Lula — while she’s still working as a prostitute on Stark Street. Her character is introduced together with her friend Jackie.
- We also get mention of a lot of Stephanie’s neighbours’ names: Mrs Becker (3rd floor), Mrs Delgado (upstairs), Mrs Moyer, Mrs Orbach, Mr Grossman, Mrs Feinsmith, Mr Wolesky, and Mr Earling.
Team Morelli/Team Ranger:
This book really highlights the conflicted nature of Stephanie’s relationship and past history with Joe Morelli. There are a few details about his appearance that I don’t think get mentioned much in subsequent books: he has a scar “paper thin, sliced through his right eyebrow”, his eyes are “like black fire one minute and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate the next”, and he has an eagle tattooed on his chest. We also hear a bit more about Joe’s family: we meet his mom, find out his dad has passed away, and we see his cousin Mooch and find out Mooch is married to Shirley Gallo.
Ranger isn’t really Stephanie’s love interest at the beginning of the series. He’s an important character in the story though — being the first one to show Stephanie’s the ropes of the whole bounty hunting business and helping her make one of her first apprehension. We do get a good description of him as well:
“Ricardo Carlos Manoso. Second generation Cuban-American. Was Special Forces. Works for Vinnie now. He makes apprehensions other agents only dream about. He gets a little creative sometimes, but hey, that’s the way it is with a genius, right?”
The book starts with Stephanie driving a Mazda Miata which almost immediately gets reposessed by Lenny Gruber for failure of payment. She then buys a Chevy Nova (with total body rust and countless accidents) at Blue Ribbon Used Cars — it was priced at $500 but she was able to trade it in for her TV and VCR. The car has a constant oil leak, and gets spray painted by vandals, so it’s not a great thing to drive.
Eventually, she ends up “commandeering” Morelli’s red and gold Jeep Cherokee. At one point, she gets into a minor car accident causing some scratches to the right rear fender, but that’s nothing compared to what happens the next morning. The car ends up getting blown up after a car bomb, meant for Stephanie, goes off when Morty Beyers tries to commandeer it himself. After bumming a ride from her dad and borrowing her FTA neighbour’s car, she’s back to driving the Nova for a couple of days.
Rereading this book reminded me of why I fell in love with the series in the first place. One thing that really stood out to me, being able to compare it to what the series is like recently, was how much more dark the first book was. Sure, there was still loads of humour injected, but that was broken up by some truly scary moment between Stephanie and Benito Ramirez. While at some point in each of the books, Stephanie will have a close call in cheating death, nothing really compares to the terror of facing Ramirez. For whatever reason, plain death is not as scary as the thought of being raped, mutilated and made to suffer.
This also relates to a criticism I had while watching the movie adaptation of this book: most of the truly scary moments in the book were softened for the movie. But that is a topic for another post.