St Martin’s Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-97299-7
Contemporary Romance, 2001
If there’s a reason to love this author’s books, it’s that she doesn’t rely on big misunderstandings or unnecessary misanthropy on her characters to carry a plot. Instead, she relies on character interaction, eccentric secondary characters, and surreal, evocative settings to carry her story. Lip Service, obviously inspired by a real-life case of a widow (I can’t remember her name) obsessed with ghosts and hereafter and her crazy mansion, is set in a large Gothic manor with bewildering staircases and extensions.
Schuyler Grant inherits her eccentric late great-aunt Cora’s mansion (or castle may be a more appropriate term). She is travelling to Grantwood one stormy night when she is rear-ended by a strange car. She almost knock down a man and a dog as a result. He doesn’t believe her story of a sociopathic driver on the loose, but nonetheless, he not-too-gracefully decides not to press charges. He finds her cute too. They exchange cards in case one needs to contact the other (insurance, cops, et cetera).
Imagine their surprise when he turns out to be Trace Ballinger, Cora’s lawyer to execute Cora’s estate. Trace is a self-made successful lawyer with a bad childhood, and he actually has an ax to grind with the Grants, but he loves Cora and now, he’s slowly falling for Schuyler. Oh dear. But someone is trying to kill people, and Cora left a note to Schuyler to “lay the ghosts to rest”. Yeah, Grantwood is haunted, or so the spooky neighbors next door will have everyone believe.
Trace can be a gorgeous and memorable romance hero, a self-made man who feels twinges of loneliness now that he’s on top and all alone. He reeks melancholy but he never uses his childhood as an excuse to behave like an A1 jerk. Schuyler is blue-blooded woman with her own insecurities, but she too never goes on and on about her hang-up’s. In fact, both characters are trademark Suzanne Simmons characters – two-parts romantic melancholy and three parts intelligence.
But Lip Service is filled with choppy sentences and one-sentenced paragraphs. This style of writing tend to increase the psychological distance between me and the characters, and after one too many of such exchanges, ugh:
“Told you so.”
A muffled, “Why?”
“Why am I always so warm?”
Her head moved.
“Runner’s metabolism,” was his conjecture.