The Widow
by Anne Stuart, contemporary (2001)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-813-0

A spoiler is present in this review. You've been warned.

Terror, mystery, suspense! This is a dark mystery, stupefying and bewildering because no one can piece together what little clues found to form a coherent picture. What is happening? Who did it? The butler? Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you today's episode of the Mystery Showcase: The Watering Down of Anne Stuart. And Hercule Peirot suggests that all evidence points towards the Miz Editor of Anne Stuart as the bloody culprit. Either that or Ms Stuart is mellowing with age, but I'd like to think that as we grow older, we get more happenin', so I refuse to contemplate even that notion.

The Widow in question is Charlie, actually Charlotte Thomas, a former barely legal (is 17 legal?) bride of an old lecherous Picasso-wannabe artist Aristide Pompasse (yes, I get that last name - haha). Charlie fled the coop, filed for divorce ages ago though, and today she is back to Aristide's house in Tuscan. Aristide is dead, probably murdered, but Charlie is here to... yes, why is she here anyway? I don't know. I don't know many things about Charlie, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Aristide's death motivates burned-out former-journalist-superhero now tabloid scum Connor Maguire to snoop around for secrets. Diaries, photos, anything to break a sale. He decides to boink the frigid ice widow Charlie that has captivated Aristide so, for information (think of it as Gigolo-duty in the name of Truth and Information) and for the challenge. And of course, someone - maybe more than one people - wants to kill everybody and anybody. In a house full of annoying and malicious guests, it can be anybody, right? Let the Clue game begin.

But I don't understand much of this story. For instance, why does Charlie go back? And why is she feeling so guilty over some vague things in this story? Why does she feel this obligation to attend the funeral of a man she claims to despise anyway? And why is she so afraid? Or angry? Or worried? And most importantly, why did she marry Aristide? Love? I'm not told exactly. It's bewildering.

Now Connor. He's not interesting at all. He's not even - dare I say it? - dark and dangerous like other Anne Stuart heroes. Fair enough, I won't begrudge an author if she wants to write in a new direction, but Connor doesn't seem to have much personality apart from a way with cussing and little else.

Charlie and Connor generate as much chemistry as two turnips in a sack. Most puzzling is the inclusion of Charlie's hubby-to-be, which only serves to pinpoint how unlikeably distant Charlie is, and Charlie's mother, whose abrupt turnface at the end from Mother From Hell to Carol Brady makes me scratch my head in bewilderment.

You know what The Widow is? It's like an Anne Stuart novel with the usual bad hero, frigid heroine, and many gothic, evil characters, until someone, probably the editor, steps in and says, "Hey, this won't sell! You must make the heroine be happy with her mother, even though it makes no sense, because romance readers are dumb in that they don't care as long as they get off on some sad sob scene at the end. And the hero is bad, that is so wrong, lady - make him likeable. Don't show him do anything bad, let's just drop hints and hope that stupid readers get distracted by the love scenes which are probably all they care about anyway. And can we have a secret baby? We can make Charlie and Connor ex-lovers in highschool and - Anne, put down that fork, please. Anne, ANNE!"

Okay, the last bit about the fork is my own (pleasant) fantasy. But I still say The Widow is Anne Stuart's bad hair day book. She can do better. Fork the editor, I say.

Rating: 50

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