MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-813-0
Romantic Suspense, 2001
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 Poirot suggests that all evidence points towards the editor 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 happening, 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 at her ex-husband’s house in Tuscan. That man 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 had captivated Aristide so, for information (think of it as gigolo duty in the name of truth) 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 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. These two 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 unlikable and distant Charlie is, and Charlie’s mother, whose abrupt face turn 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 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 likable. 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 high school 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.