Since the 1996 novel One For the Money, Janet Evanovich has been the gold standard among humorous mystery novelists.
The book featured Stephanie Plum, a former lingerie buyer who becomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job. Plum often finds herself in hilarious conundrums as she goes about her business.
There have been 26 Plum novels in total, with the last 17 hitting #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Evanovich has sold over two hundred million books worldwide and been translated into over 40 languages, making her among the most commercially successful fiction writers of all time.
Evanovich’s lighthearted, economical narrative style has earned her a massive following, as well as plenty of imitators.
For readers looking for a quick fix, here’s our list of the best writers like Janet Evanovich.
Signature Book: Louisiana Longshot
In the first book in the Miss Fortune series, CIA assassin Fortune Redding is about to undertake her most difficult mission ever—in Sinful, Louisiana. With a leak at the CIA and a price placed on her head by one of the world’s largest arms dealers, Fortune has to go off-grid, but she never expected to be this far out of her element. Posing as a former beauty queen turned librarian in a small bayou town seems worse than death to Fortune, but she’s determined to fly below the radar until her boss finds the leak and puts the arms dealer out of play. Unfortunately, she hasn’t even unpacked a suitcase before her newly inherited dog digs up a human bone in her backyard.
Thrust into the middle of a bayou murder mystery, Fortune teams up with a couple of seemingly sweet old ladies whose looks completely belie their hold on the little town. To top things off, the handsome local deputy is asking her too many questions. If she’s not careful, this investigation might blow her cover and get her killed. Armed with her considerable skills and a group of elderly ladies the locals dub The Geritol Mafia, Fortune has no choice but to solve the murder before it’s too late.
Signature Book: Southern Spirits
In Fox’s inaugural Mystery Ghost Hunter series book, out of work graphic designer Verity Long accidentally traps a ghost on her property, she’s saddled with more than a supernatural sidekick—she gains the ability see spirits.
It leads to an offer she can’t refuse from the town’s bad boy, who also happens to be the brother of her ex and the last man she should ever partner with.
Ellis Wydell is in possession of a stunning historic property haunted by some of Sugarland Tennessee’s finest former citizens. Only some of them are growing restless—and destructive. He hires Verity to put an end to the disturbances.
But soon, Verity learns there’s more to the mysterious estate than floating specters, secret passageways, and hidden rooms.
There’s a modern day mystery afoot, one that hinges on a decades-old murder.
Verity isn’t above questioning the living, or the dead. But can she discover the truth before the killer finds her?
Signature Book: Plain Brown Wrapper
Every humorous mystery needs a memorable hangout, and Plain Brown Wrapper’s is The Booty Scoot, a Dallas gay bar where “tight Wranglers, white Stetsons and shirts stiff with enough starch to stop a bullet” prevail. But the good times come to a halt for Booty Scoot regular and Dallas City Councilman Billy Clayton when his latest indiscretion comes with a side helping of blackmail.
Meanwhile, local college student Allison Kerry is in dire need of cash. Orphaned as a teenager, she still managed to earn a collegiate scholarship. But now she’s facing law school tuition, not to mention her brother’s soaring attorney and medical bills. After striking a “Faustian bargain” with ex-boyfriend Chad, she ends up in a harebrained jam with a gaggle of shadowy political con men.
Author Greg Lynch has created a sympathetic protagonist in Allison, but his characterization of Councilman Clayton really shines. Clayton is a political horn dog who squirts Aloe Vera juice inside his boots and just barely manages to keep his offensive tirades within his inner circle. At times, the book’s grab bag of shysters can get a tad confusing, even for Allison, but each dose of Clayton’s comic goodness is its own reward, and the overall effect is highly effective
Signature Book: Workman’s Complication
Rule #1: Don’t do murder. It doesn’t pay, and somebody’s already dead. Murder leads to more murder. Maybe yours.
So begins a series of amusing guidelines written by New York private investigator Jimmy McCall. But by the time his daughter, 45-year-old Kate McCall reads them, Jimmy has died and left her McCall & Company, his PI firm.
Unfortunately, Kate wants no part of it. She’s a 45-year-old struggling actress whose life has been a carousel of hilariously odd professions including actor, dog walker, bagel-maker, house painter, dating service coordinator, exotic dancer and many others.
Despite the fact that she has also occasionally worked on her father’s cases, Kate seems determined that her PI license go to the grave with him. But when a man with a workman’s compensation issue offers her $200 per day to take his case, she suddenly has a change of heart (Kate: “I made much less than two hundred dollars a day walking dogs.”)
All the while, her father’s death is never far from her mind. Why was he murdered? Was it because he violated Rule #1? And if Kate were to actually investigate his death, would she not also be violating Rule #1?
In Kate McCall, Leder has created one of the most original PIs in literature. As you might have guessed, Kate’s acting skills come in handy during the course of her work (even if she can’t sing so well while wearing vampire teeth). Overall, Workman’s Complication is a gratifying and clever mystery that would be riveting even in the hands of a conventional writer. But the fact that Leder is such an exceptional humorist makes it required reading for those who appreciate levity in their fiction. You’ll be slayed (pun intended) by the funeral scene where Kate agrees to take her first gig, and Jimmy’s rules always kill (my personal favorite? Rule #3: never kiss a cop on the first date). By the time you’ve read Rule #4, you’ll be hooked.
Signature Book: Runway Dreams