One for the Money (Stephanie Plum, No. 1) Novel Beat Sheet
Written by: Janet Evanovich
Publisher: HarperTorch, 1994
Total pages: 287
The first “Stephanie Plum” novel by #1 New York Times bestselling author Janet Evanovich started a comedic mystery series that’s still going strong. Book #26, Twisted Twenty-Six, is set to be released this year on November 12th, and it continues to star the enduringly loveable bounty hunter heroine, Stephanie, from Trenton, New Jersey, who solves crimes with the help of her quirky family and wisecracking friends. But this novel is the book where it all began, and I was hooked from page one.
Granted, I was a little slow on the uptake initially. I didn’t start reading the series until 2004, a full decade into it and just a few weeks before the release of the tenth Plum novel, Ten Big Ones. I remember this time period well because the wait for that next book—a mere month until its publication—was practically torturous. I was working at the public library in the circulation department, and one of the joys of that position was talking to patrons about their favorite novels and authors.
Janet Evanovich’s name kept coming up. I took their advice on giving her writing a try, but once I picked up One for the Money, I didn’t want to stop reading. I devoured the first nine books in three weeks… had to wait that additional month for the tenth (which I finished in a day) and then an entire year for the eleventh. The characters have come to feel like old friends to me and, while the latter stories in the series have their merits, the first dozen or so Plum books will always be close to my heart.
Here are my take on the Blake Snyder beats for One for the Money:
Opening Image (pages 1 – 3): We’re introduced to a 30-year-old divorced former lingerie buyer raised in a blue-collar neighborhood of Trenton, New Jersey called “the burg.” In the opening pages, Stephanie Plum reflects on her childhood, her upbringing with the many Italian-Hungarian family and friends in the area and, in particular, her earliest memories of Joe Morelli, the bad boy from her youth who eventually becomes a local cop.
Set-Up (pages 1 – 18): Beyond playing “Choo-choo” with Morelli at the age of six and losing her virginity to him at age 16, we learn that Stephanie isn’t one to take an insult lightly. Three years later, the next time she sees him, she retaliates for his bragging about their night together by running into him with her car and purposely breaking his leg. This level of antagonism is reflective of their relationship at the start of the novel, which has even more significance when Stephanie, who’s been out of work for months and is in desperate need of money, manages to get a new job.
We meet various members of Stephanie’s family, including her wacky Grandma Mazur and her parents. We also learn that her cousin Vinnie owns a bail bonding company and needs a filing clerk. Instead of that position, though, Stephanie blackmails him into giving her the highest paying bounty hunting case he’s got available, not realizing at first who she’ll be hunting.
Theme Stated (page 16): In a story that’s a sly love letter to street-smart residents of the Garden State, Vinnie’s secretary Connie says to Stephanie that “… living in New Jersey is a challenge… what’s one more lunatic shooting at you?” Or, translating Connie’s Trenton-specific remark into a more general philosophic statement: Hey, life’s dangerous out there—you’re gonna have to deal with crazies no matter what, so what have you got to lose? It’s a sentiment Stephanie professes to believe.
Catalyst (page 18): After angling for this bounty hunting job despite having absolutely none of the necessary skills for the position, Stephanie finally discovers that the man she’ll need to track down and bring into the station in order to collect her bond money is none other than Vice Cop Joseph Morelli, who’s been accused of murder. Oh, boy.
Debate (pages 19 – 57): Stephanie begins the process of bounty hunting. To say she’s “ill prepared” is an understatement. She’s not sure she can handle doing the job, but she really needs the money and she still really despises Morelli—two forms of motivation that, when combined, seem to overcome all logic and reasoning.
A key player and a mysterious character is introduced here—Ranger—and his involvement will grow in importance during the course of the series. In book one, he takes on the role of Professor Henry Higgins to Stephanie’s Eliza Doolittle in the wonderful world of bounty hunting. He gets her a gun and she begins her investigative work in trying to locate Morelli. If there’s a mistake she can make, she makes it, including ending up in a very dangerous situation with a psycho boxer/bad guy named Ramirez.
Of all people, Joe Morelli himself comes to her rescue but, of course, he’s not about to let her bring him into to the police station to collect a bounty on him. He has his reasons for needing to stay off the grid. He doesn’t think anyone will able to prove he’s innocent of the crime he was jailed for—except for him. He demands that Stephanie stop following him.
Break into Two (pages 57 – 58): Despite her rocky start to bounty hunting, Stephanie decides that she’s been doing better at this whole game than other people, like Morelli, have been giving her credit for, and she’s not going to quit. She just needs a less lethal way to subdue her targets (defense spray rather than a gun, perhaps?), and is determined to continue on the job.
B Story (pages 59 – 64): While Evanovich, who wrote numerous romances before turning to mysteries, does have some delightful romantic elements in this book, the true “love story,” in my opinion, especially in this first novel of the series, is not so much her love of another person as much as her love of this new job, new life, and new self identity.
Not that Stephanie’s mother isn’t above trying to set her up with an appropriate love interest—i.e., someone not remotely like Joseph Morelli, who her mom has been warning her about since she was a grade schooler—but it’s clear that the only real attraction Stephanie is feeling is toward this new role she taking on and the person she’s evolving into as a result.
The B Story is about her love of bounty hunting and the confidence and skills she needs to build to do it well.
Fun and Games (pages 65 – 139): Just as Blake always said, this is the “movie trailer” for the story. For anyone who’s ever watched the 2-minute and 30-second film clip from Katherine Heigl’s and Jason O’Mara’s cinematic version of One for the Money (2012), you got to see much of this beat in action. It features Stephanie slowly learning how to do a better job at bounty hunting by chasing bad guys, picking up less challenging bail jumpers, shooting her gun after a fair bit of target practice, running into Morelli and experiencing all of that fun frustration/sexual tension, and meeting the wonderful Lula (a local hooker who starts out as a source of info for Stephanie and, later in the series, becomes her sidekick).
The good stuff doesn’t stop there. She also gets tips on breaking & entering from Ranger and unwelcome visits from crazy Ramirez. She steals Morelli’s car and he gets even by breaking into her apartment and handcuffing her to the shower (naked). There are explosions, Grandma Mazur antics, and high jinks galore.
Midpoint (pages 139 – 140): False defeat. And, yet, even after all she’s learned, not only is Stephanie unable to capture Morelli for profit, she’s also continued to attract the attention of psycho Ramirez who, at this point in the story, calls her parents’ house, wanting to reach her. Stephanie realizes she’s truly not safe.
Bad Guys Close In (pages 141 – 214): With Ramirez stalking her, money issues persisting, and Morelli still on the loose, Stephanie has bad guys closing in from more than one direction. Some of her things are stolen from another skip she’s chasing, who isn’t as easy to catch as the last guy. Ranger realizes she needs to get better at apprehending these criminals and forces her to get more serious about her gun and defense training. Ramirez attacks Lula for talking to Stephanie and brutalizes her badly enough for Lula to be hospitalized. Morelli offers Stephanie a partnership, but even with the two of them working together, there’s danger at every turn.
All Is Lost (pages 214 – 215): Stephanie and Morelli have problems getting the information they need to convict Ramirez. No one admits to knowing enough to help them, and even Lula, out of fear, won’t testify against Ramirez. The case is all but lost. Whiff of death. Stephanie won’t be able to earn enough money now nor will she be safe from Ramirez, and Morelli won’t be able to prove his innocence nor will he be cleared of the crime he didn’t commit.
Dark Night of the Soul (pages 216 – 231): Stephanie takes stock of the situation they’re in. The previous bounty hunter, whose job Stephanie had been filling in for initially, returns now. He wants the files on the skips (including Morelli’s) that she’d been working on in his absence. She doesn’t want to give up, but she has very little to show for her efforts thus far.
Ramirez sneaks up on her, threatens her, and then hits her. She gets him with her defense spray and his manager comes running out to intervene. But that night, she’s scared, lonely, and so anxious that she sleeps with her defense spray next to her, along with her portable phone, her gun, and even her pet hamster. She’s not sure if anyone—not even Morelli—will be able to protect her.
Break into Three (pages 231 – 233): Morelli wakes her up with a sweet phone call. He says he has some fugitive-like errands to run, but he’ll be back. Meanwhile, Morelli’s car, which Stephanie had “commandeered” earlier, has been parked in her apartment’s outside lot. The prior bounty hunter breaks into the car, thinking he’ll be able to get some tracking info on Morelli. Instead, the car blows up and kills him. Stephanie realizes immediately that the car bomb was actually meant for her.
Finale (pages 234 – 286): Going back to the line “What’s one more lunatic shooting at you?”—the theme of knowing how life’s already dangerous and that you’re going to have to deal with crazies no matter what—well, that rings true here. The theme is fully incorporated in the finale, as the A and B Stories cross, with plenty of lunacy, unpredictability, and bail-bondswoman heroics.
Stephanie deals with the seriousness of being a target and having someone try to kill her (yet again) and feels a growing fondness for Morelli. She still turns him in for the bond money the minute she has the chance, although she believes he’s innocent and plans to prove that. The killer finds her and she even gets shot in the leg, but she manages to shoot back and kill the killer, prove Morelli’s innocence so he can be cleared, and get the big payout she’s earned by capturing her skip.
Morelli, while displeased with her actions at first, does relent and offer her his friendship. And Stephanie is rightfully proud of herself for having transitioned into a professional bounty hunter.
Final Image (page 287): Morelli apologizes for having committed yet another teenage offense, which bookends the Opening Image with a reference back to their shared youth. She hadn’t known about this additional insult, and the two of them end the novel with flirtatious bickering about her longstanding grudge against him.