Trust Me
by Melanie Craft, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61285-5


Melanie Craft isn't exactly a new author as she had a series novel out in 1998. But if Warner wants to call her a debut author, who am I to disagree? Trust Me is a very uneven book. The suspense subplot is a big mistake, and the hero is a whiny and often irrational person. At the same time, the author has a clear voice that comes through in her prose, the heroine knows how to bring the hero down a few pegs, and character development is well-done.

Max Giordano, billionaire businessman et cetera, finally finds his long-lost grandfather... only to have the family reunion cut short when Henry Tremayne hits the floor and falls into a coma. When Max learns that vet Carly Martin will stand to inherit the duty of taking care of Henry's thirty-five pets (mostly cats), the expenses for her duty, and the Tremayne mansion, the man flies off the handle and accuses Carly of being Henry's mistress, pulling a Temptress act on the poor old man, and pushing Henry down the stairs. By the way, what's with all these old men imposing crippling terms in their will on the people they claim to love? Carly will be forced to give up her time at her practice to feed the pets when Henry dies. So much for love, hmmph.

As they try to get to the bottom of the mystery behind Henry's fall, Carly and Max will fall in love. Carly is a pretty good heroine in that while she may be a pushover when it comes to love, she doesn't let Max walk all over her. Max is a really big problem in this story: he accuses Carly of nonsense without any base justifications or evidence, and worst of all, he will believe her innocent and then accuse her of being a murderess on and off when the author feels like adding some conflict in her story. There is no rhyme or reason in Max's behavior and definitely he has no basis in his accusations. Even more tacky, at the same time he insists that he can't be a suspect because, well, because he says so, that's why! Compounding to his already mule-headed stupidity is Max's tendency to throw a one-man pity party about his sad childhood, boo-hoo-hoo. This story will be a train wreck if Carly doesn't stop Max from running her down. Carly doesn't take Max's nonsense and gives back as good as she gets, but soon I wonder why she keeps putting up with and patiently cooling down Max's schizophrenic mood-swings for so long instead of just showing him the finger and telling him to take his crackpot accusations, make a baseball bat out of them, and shove it up where the sun never shines on him.

Still, Carly and Max are well-defined characters, even if I don't find their personalities entirely agreeable. The author has taken time to draw out Max's past, especially, and despite Max coming off like a thick-headed schizoid, I must say that Melanie Craft succeeds in making me symphatize with him and his craving for a family that he never had. One of the best aspects of Carly and Max's romance is how Max slowly becomes more and more in love with Carly for her warmth, her friends, her family, and her pets as well as for her physical assets. Sure, he's a stubborn fool and a really dim-witted fool at that, but I'm still a sucker for lonely and tortured heroes crying out for love and Max is really good in crying out and tugging at my heartstrings here. But if I'm Carly though, I'd send him for some psychiatric check-up first to weed out any potential schizophrenic tendencies before I persuade him to forgo the prenuptial agreement and put me as the woman that will inherit all his money when he dies.

The suspense, as I've said, is a big mistake because there is only one disagreeable fellow in this story and the author doesn't even try to add any red herrings in her story. The suspense is also a mistake because the bad guy manages to capture the heroine on the account of her own lackadaisal attitude towards security and personal safety. Carly's in love with a mule and I'm already questioning her brainpower, so this extra dumbing down of the heroine is not what the book needs, surely.

Nonetheless, despite its flaws, Trust Me has buoyant writing and a relationship that crackles with chemistry even if one half of the couple can be very inconsistent in his behavior. There is bounce and charm in the writing that suggest that given time, Melanie Craft may improve tremendously in her, er, craft. So, on this basis, I'll be very generous this time around and give this book my recommendation. There are flaws, but hey, give it a look anyway.

Rating: 79


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