Born April 22, 1943, in South River, NJ; married Peter Evanovich; children: Peter, Alex. Education: Douglass College, NJ, B.A., 1965.
Addresses: Office—P.O. Box 5487, Hanover, NH 03755. E-mail—[email protected]
Author. Has also worked in car sales, as an insurance claims adjuster, waitress, and secretary.
Member: Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime.
Awards: John Creasey Memorial Award, British Crime Writer's Association, for One for the Money, 1995; Dily Award, Independent Mystery Bookseller's Association, for One for the Money, 1995; Last Laugh Award, British Crime Writer's Association, for Two for the Dough, 1996; Silver Dagger award, British Crime Writer's Association, for Three to Get Deadly, 1997; Lefty award, Left Coast Crime.
"What I really write is adventure stories—Indiana Jones in Trenton," mystery writer Janet Evanovich told Booklist's GraceAnne A. DeCandido in an interview. The author of a successful series of humorous detective novels set in Trenton, New Jersey, Evanovich has created what may be "the single hottest character in crime fiction at the moment," wrote Bill Ott in a Booklist review of 2001's Hot Six. The character Ott refers to is Evanovich's protagonist, Stephanie Plum, a feisty Jersey woman of Hungarian and Italian descent who turns to bounty hunting when she loses her job as a lingerie buyer. Characterized by a flamboyant wardrobe, big hair, and an impertinent manner, Plum tracks bail jumpers for her cousin Vinnie, a bail bondsman. Among the cast of oddball characters Plum gathers around her are retired blond-haired, African-American hooker Lula, mace-toting Grandma Mazur, and Plum's hamster, Rex. The bounty hunter's squeeze of the moment, police officer Joe Morelli, is also often on hand to receive the bail-skippers Plum chases down. Another more enigmatic male in Plum's life is Ricardo Carlos Mafioso, a.k.a. the Ranger, her mentor in the world of bounty hunting. DeCandido described Evanovich's work as a compilation of "romance, cozy, and noir," from which strange brew Evanovich has "created the heady attraction of Nancy Drew grown up." Evanovich's mystery books have crossed over into the mainstream with initial print runs of half a million copies, regularly making it onto the New York Times best-seller list. Evanovich likewise has made it into the elite of the whodunit pantheon along with other top names in the genre such as Sue Grafton and Robert B. Parker. Not bad for a writer who started out penning anonymous romance novels.
Born in South River, New Jersey, in 1943, Evanovich spent much of her time in "LaLa Land," as she described her childhood on her author website. "LaLa Land is like an out-of-body experience—while your mouth is eating lunch your mind is conversing with Captain Kirk." Gifted with a rich imagination, Evanovich spent periods of her youth lip-synching opera or galloping about on an imaginary steed, knocking holes into her Aunt Lena's lawn. "Aunt Lena was a good egg," Evanovich wrote on her website. "She understood that the realities of daily existence were lost in the murky shadows of my slightly loony imagination." Evanovich was also a reader. She loved Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid, and enjoyed comic books. As an adult, she still reads about the adventures of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. "Actually, Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge are the reasons why I am writing books today," she told Jennifer Clarson in Book. "They are adventure stories. Uncle Scrooge is always running off looking for Inca treasure or gold in the Klondike, and that is what I'm writing. I love adventure."
After high school graduation Evanovich entered Douglass College, where she studied art, earning her bachelor of arts degree in 1965. She also married her high school sweetheart while at college. Her new husband was a doctoral candidate at Rutgers, and during her first years out of college Evanovich continued to work on her painting while taking a series of temp jobs, waitressing, selling cars, even working as an insurance claims adjuster. The painting eventually got left behind, as "it never felt exactly right," she explained on her website. "It was frustrating at best, excruciating at worst. My audience was too small. Communication was too obscure." She slowly turned to writing as a form of self-expression. Evanovich, the mother of two young children at the time, was a stay-at-home mom. "I loved being a housewife," she told Time's Andrea Sachs. "I thought it was very creative. You got to make things—cooking, baking, sewing. I got to color in coloring books with the kids and build forts out of blocks." At night, once the kids were in bed, she turned to the typewriter in her husband's home office and churned out manuscripts which she dutifully sent out to editors. Just as regularly, she got rejection letters in return, which she saved in a large cardboard box. Once the box got full, she burned it, donned an office uniform, and found a job as a secretary. After four months on the job she received a call from an editor at Second Chance at Love books who wanted to buy a manuscript she had sent him and promptly forgotten about. With the $2,000 advance from that book, Evanovich quit her secretarial job and took up writing full time.
Evanovich spent five years writing romance titles, both under her own name and as Steffie Hall. One title from that time, Full House, has seen a resurrection since Evanovich's subsequent fame as a crime writer, inspiring her to re-enter the romance field with the 2003 Full Tilt, written with Charlotte Hughes. But after her half-decade of toil in the romance line, and with a dozen novels under her belt, she tired of the genre. "I ran out of sexual positions and decided to move into the mystery genre," she explained on her website. Speaking with Book's Clarson she noted, "I reached the point where I was very frustrated because I couldn't get anyone to buy the romantic adventure books that I wanted to write. So I just quit. You can reinvent yourself all the time." With mystery and crime, Evanovich figured she could use the skills she had already honed, plus feed her need for more adventure writing. However, it took her two years to research the genre and figure out her main character.
Opting for a female protagonist, she next needed to find the appropriate role. Female private investigators had already been done, and she did not want to make her heroine a cop, "because you really need to know what you're doing to pull off a cop," she told Book's Clarson. Then one night she saw the movie Midnight Run on television, with Robert De Niro playing a bounty hunter in a film that is a mix of adventure and goofy comedy. "For Evanovich, it was 'Eureka!' time," wrote Robert Allen Papinchak in Writer. "She decided her protagonist would be a bounty hunter." What was still missing, however, was a model for the series she was planning. For that she chose the world of television sit-com, fashioning her books on Seinfeld. Her books would become "a series of episodic mysteries with humor," according to Papinchak. The setting would be the "Burg," near Trenton, New Jersey, where she grew up. Stephanie Plum, the protagonist, would be a trash talker, but with snappy dialogue which has an over-the-top noir feel to it. And surrounding her protagonist would be a weird and rather eccentric bunch of characters. The series debuted with 1994's One for the Money, the novel in which Plum tackles her first assignment, the capture of Joe Morelli, a police officer and accused murderer who also happens to be the man to whom she lost her virginity when she was 16.
Reviewing One for the Money, Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review delighted in a bounty-hunting protagonist "with Bette Midler's mouth and Cher's fashion sense." Stasio concluded that, "with [Plum's] brazen style and dazzling wardrobe, who could resist this doll?" Calling One for the Money "funny and ceaselessly inventive," Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times Book Review applauded Evanovich's use of first-person narration. According to Champlin, "Stephanie's voice, breezy and undauntable, is all her own . [Her] moral seems to be that when the going gets tough, the tough get funny." But Marvin Lachman, writing in Armchair Detective, complained that "Plum's voice becomes irritating, largely due to its consistently unsophisticated speech." Calling the plot "minimal," Lachman indicated that the story "cannot sustain a book of two hundred and ninety pages," specifically noting that "reader suspension of disbelief is threatened" by Plum's prior relationship with Morelli. Kate Wilson, in a mixed review in Entertainment Weekly, suggested that Evanovich's inexperience as a novelist was evident in occasionally contrived dialogue but nevertheless described heroine Plum as "intelligent, cheery and genuine."
Evanovich's follow-up novel, Two for the Dough, was published in 1996 and depicts Plum's pursuit of fugitive Kenny Mancuso. The case is complicated by a secondary mystery involving two dozen coffins missing from a local mortuary and intensified by her ongoing relationship with Morelli, who also has an interest in the case. Ultimately, Plum's grandmother gets involved, and, in the words of Times Literary Supplement reviewer Natasha Cooper, "does her ham-fisted best to assist Stephanie, falling into coffins, firing off bullets and upsetting the entire neighborhood." In the New York Times Book Review, Stasio again praised heroine Plum, whom she described as "the motor-mouthed Jersey girl from Trenton with her pepper spray, stun gun, up-to-here hair and out-to-there attitude." An Entertainment Weekly reviewer called the "local color a bit too forcibly hued" and complained that the "dialogue has a mechanical, insular feel." In the Times Literary Supplement, however, Cooper called the work "an entertaining parody of the hard-boiled American crime novel."
The third volume in the series, 1997's Three to Get Deadly, details Plum's search for "Uncle Mo," a candy store owner and local hero who skipped out on a concealed weapons charge. A Publishers Weekly reviewer appreciated the way the heroine "muddles through another case full of snappy one-liners as well as corpses," and concluded that "the redoubtable Stephanie is a character crying out for a screen debut."
The fourth "Stephanie Plum" mystery, Four to Score, was published in 1998. In this novel Plum is called on to find a waitress who has jumped bail after a car-theft charge. Four to Score includes some familiar characters as well as a supporting cast of eccentrics. New York Times Book Review contributor Stasio called the novel a "brashly funny adventure," while Booklist contributor Emily Melton termed it "side-splittingly funny and a fine mystery to boot." A contributor for Publishers Weekly also praised the "eccentric" cast of supporting characters, and found that Plum's "brash exterior and high emotionality" provide a "welcome antidote to suave professional PIs."
The first four books in the series proved so successful that Evanovich found herself the recipient of several awards as well as a film option that allowed her family to set up its own business, Evanovich, Inc., with the author's husband in charge of management, her son handling financial affairs, and her daughter handling the author website and fan response. With the fifth title in the series, 1999's High Five, Evanovich reached the top of the New York Times best-seller list. Subsequent novels have also scored high, reaching the top of the national charts within days of publication. In High Five, Plum's romance with Morelli sometimes takes a back seat to the passionate possibilities between her and the mysterious Ranger. In her fifth outing Plum has her hands full tracking her Uncle Fred and a very short computer programmer while trying to avoid being stalked by a rapist and puzzling about what to wear to a Mafia wedding. "Evanovich deftly combines eccentric, colorful characters, wacky humor, and nonstop—if a bit farfetched—action," declared Wilda Williams in a Library Journal review.
Plum returns for more adventures in 2000's Hot Six, in which Grandma Mazur moves in with her, Ranger goes on the run after being hunted by police for killing a drug dealer, and Plum herself must avoid being kidnaped by the Mafia—all this while figuring out if she can really love Morelli while being so physically attracted to Ranger. "Evanovich spins all these threads, plus more, into a lunatic tapestry of nonstop action peopled by wacky characters," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. DeCandido, reviewing the novel in Booklist, felt that Evanovich's real strengths are "her sizzling erotic moments" and "her gift of making the grittiest and most terrifying of situations hilarious."
Plum's personal history plays a major part in her seventh outing, 2001's Seven Up, when she tries to bring an old character from her neighborhood, Eddie De Chooch, in for trial. Among a panoply of subplots is the arrival of her "perfect" sister, Valerie, after her marriage ends, Grandma Mazur falling in love with her motorcycle, and a pair of fences (criminals who sell stolen property) who get in trouble with the law. "Almost every chapter has a laugh-out-loud moment," noted DeCandido in Booklist. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found some things to like in the "zesty" novel, but nonetheless thought it "doesn't quite hit the high marks of her last two." Mark Harris, writing in Entertainment Weekly, noted that he likes his mysteries "with more danger and less strenuous comedy."
Hard Eight, the 2002 addition to the series, finds Plum on the trail of the granddaughter of her mother's next-door neighbor while also tracking a couple of strange Failure to Appears. Plum is also being trailed by a guy in a bunny suit, has her car blown up, and finds a dead body dumped on her couch. With her sister, Valerie, Valerie's children, and Grandma Mazur camping out in her house, Plum is relegated to sleeping on said couch. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that Evanovich delivers "an even more suspenseful and more outrageous turn" in this eighth Plum novel, while Marianne Fitzgerald, writing in Library Journal, dubbed the book "great summer reading." However, a critic for Kirkus Reviews was less impressed, cautioning against "plot holes big enough to drive that Buick through." Cathy Burke, writing in People, also had problems with the plausibility of the plot, but found "the girl mercenary as fresh as ever," and the jokes "always perfectly placed."
As a Christmas gift to her fans, Evanovich served up a novella in late 2002 titled Visions of Sugar Plums, in which a spectral, blond-haired hunk named Diesel aids Plum in pursuit of her most recent Failure to Appear: a toy-maker named Sandy Klaws. DeCandido called the book a "magical little sweetmeat" in Booklist, and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly also had praise, concluding, "Throw in some elves, a mad hunt for a Christmas tree, and a few fires and you have a Plum-crazy Christmas classic."
Evanovich kept up her fast writing pace and released To the Nines in 2003, which continued Plum's adventures. According to Samantha Miller in People, the book was the "sharpest, funniest, sexiest entry in the series since the early days." Her 2004 release in the series, Ten Big Ones, proved to be as addictive as the previous books. "Evanovich serves up consistently craveable goodies—and needless to say, they're always perfect for the beach," Miller wrote. With 2004's Metro Girl, Evanovich introduced the character Alexandra Barnaby, aka Barney, who is on a mission to find her missing brother. Just as sassy as Plum, Barney finds herself in physical jeopardy dealing with henchmen, lost gold, and many car chases.
Evanovich puts in a 50-hour week, turning out at least a book a year. Guilty habits include eating Cheez Doodles and buying shoes. "Basically," she told Bruce Tierney of BookPage, "I'm just a boring workaholic. I motivate myself to write by spending the money I make before it comes in."
"Stephanie Plum" series
One for the Money, Scribner (New York, NY), 1994.
Two for the Dough, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
Three to Get Deadly, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.
Four to Score, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1998.
High Five, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1999.
Hot Six, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2000.
Seven Up, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2001.
Hard Eight, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.
Visions of Sugar Plums, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.
To the Nines, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.
Ten Big Ones, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2004.
(As Steffie Hall) Hero at Large, Second Chance at Love, 1987.
The Grand Finale, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Thanksgiving, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Manhunt, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
(As Steffie Hall) Full House, Second Chance at Love, 1989; enlarged edition, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.
(As Steffie Hall) Foul Play, Second Chance at Love, 1989.
Ivan Takes a Wife, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Back to the Bedroom, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Wife for Hire, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
Smitten, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
The Rocky Road to Romance, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
Naughty Neighbor, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Early Evanovich, Bantam (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Charlotte Hughes) Full Tilt, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.
Metro Girl, HarperCollins, 2004.
Heising, Willetta A., Detecting Women 2: A Reader's Guide and Checklist for Mystery Series Written by Women, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1996.
Armchair Detective, summer 1995, p. 287.
Belles Lettres, January 1996, p. 15.
Book, May-June 2002, pp. 18-19.
Booklist, September 1, 1994; April 15, 1998, p. 1379; May 1, 2000, p. 1622; May 1, 2001, p. 1598, pp. 1628-29; July 2001, p. 2029; December 15, 2001, p. 746; August 2002, p. 1884; October 1, 2002, p. 275; January 1, 2003, p. 803.
Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 1996, p. 21.
Entertainment Weekly, November 11, 1994, p. 68; February 23, 1996, p. 119; August 10, 2001, p. 66.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, pp. 706-07; October 1, 2002, p. 1428.
Library Journal, December 1996, p. 151; June 1, 1999, p. 186; November 1, 1999, p. 142; March 15, 2000, p. 62; May 1, 2000, p. 158; June 15, 2000, p. 136; June 1, 2001, p. 224; June 15, 2001, p. 122; July 2002, p. 116.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 20, 1994, p. 8.
New York Times Book Review, September 4, 1994, p. 17; January 21, 1996, p. 31; February 16, 1997, p. 28; July 19, 1998, p. 20; June 27, 1999, p. 26; July 22, 2001, p. 22; June 23, 2002, p. 18.
People, August 23, 1999, p. 49; June 24, 2002, p. 39; December 2, 2002, p. 51; July 21, 2003, p. 47; June 21, 2004.
Publishers Weekly, November 13, 1994; November 25, 1996, p. 59; April 6, 1998, p. 62; June 21, 1999, p. 60; July 5, 1999; August 2, 1999, p. 26; May 1, 2000, p. 52; May 7, 2001, p. 227; May 20, 2002, p. 50; July 1, 2002, p. 18; August 5, 2002, p. 59; October 21, 2002, p. 58.
Time, July 22, 2002, p. G4.
Times Literary Supplement, March 15, 1996, p. 24.
Washington Post Book World, August 28, 1994, p. 6.
Writer, August 2002.
"A Conversation with Janet Evanovich," Writers Write, http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/jan99/evanovch.htm (December 16, 2004).
"Author: Janet Evanovich," BookReporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/auevanovich-janet.asp (December 16, 2004).
"Janet Evanovich: Mystery Maven Keeps Readers Coming Back for More," BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/0007bp/janet_evanovich.html (December 16, 2004).
Janet Evanovich Online, http://www.evanovich.com (December 16, 2004).