by Janet Evanovich
It's the same, but different. And therein lies the secret of Janet Evanovich's success. Twelve times she has used the same ingredients to cook up a hilarious, machine gun-paced crime caper featuring bounty hunter and doughnut devotee Stephanie Plum.
From One for the Money in 1994 to Twelve Sharp - 12 books in 14 years, perennials on best-seller lists around the world. It's an impressive achievement, but one that prompts the question each time: Can she do it again without falling flat and formulaic and wearing out Stephanie's welcome? The answer is a resounding yes.
Evanovich makes a tricky task look deceptively simple: same hapless heroine, her dysfunctional family and can't-decide-between-them love life, same setting of Trenton, New Jersey, Evanovich's home state until she moved to a New Hampshire spread.
Yet from Stephanie's succession of written-off, shot-up, fire-bombed cars to the long-time funeral parlour owner, each book has a unique plot line, unfolded in Evanovich's rapid-fire, wise-cracking style, as well as new developments in the hilarious soap opera lives of the regular characters.
This time, it's a variation on identity theft when an impersonator steals not only the identity of the luscious Latino Ranger, one of the two men in Stephanie's life, but also his 10-year-old daughter Julie.
Stephanie joins forces with Ranger in the hunt for Julie and her kidnapper, with Ranger's RangeMan security guys on the alert (with Ranger's daughter in his clutches, the look-alike is after his girlfriend, too, which places Stephanie firmly in his sights).
But when Ranger - hiding out until the police believe it really is the look-alike who is killing and kidnapping - moves into Stephanie's apartment, things get tricky with the other half of her love life, Trenton cop Joe Morelli.
There's a lively subplot as Stephanie, a so-so bounty hunter at the best of times, her long-suffering office manager Connie and Lula, an overweight former prostitute with a fondness for bling and spandex, interview a succession of losers and misfits in an effort to hire a new member for their team.
And there's more entertainment when the tone-deaf Lula launches a new career as a rock'n'roll singer, squeezing herself into a succession of increasingly tiny and outlandish costumes. But when the What's first gig (not the Who, the What - get it?) at a tough bar ends in brawling and arrests they settle for playing old people's homes - and who better to fit the demographic than Stephanie's Grandma Mazur.
After all, strutting the stage with the band may divert her from her favourite hobby - prising up coffin lids at funeral home viewings.
Twelve Sharp, named in a reader competition on her website, is trade-mark Evanovich, which won't disappoint her regulars and could just persuade newcomers to read the full dozen in reverse.
It's clever, slick, funny and fun, with a cast of highly likeable, albeit mostly loopy characters and a full-speed-ahead plot.
This is don't-stop-and-think-about-it crime fiction, read and enjoyed in just a few hours and none the worse for that. It's sheer escapism and if its worth is measured by its ability to tune out the world and its woes for every one of its 276 pages, Twelve Sharp is pure gold.
And, yes, unlucky or not there will be a number 13. The naming competition on Evanovich's website has already begun, so get those entries in.