by Christina Dodd, contemporary (2009)
Signet, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22626-6
I have no idea why this book is titled Danger In A Red Dress because this is far from a femme fatale story like the title seems to be implying. This is an entertaining read in a way because of the author's technique, but if I stop to think about the plot even a little, I'd realize that this story is more melodramatic than logical. It's like a script for a soap opera arc.
The plot is rather convoluted, like all soap opera arcs should be, so I think I would just skim the surface of things. We have Hannah Grey, a residential nurse who early on gets the reputation as the Anna Nicole Smith of New Hampshire when a man she cared for ended up leaving her $50,000 in his will. After losing her license and too stubborn to get a job asking people whether they would like some fries with the Big Mac, she ends up taking a gig at the mysterious Balfour House where she becomes the pawn in a game played between Carrick Manly, her employer, and his mother. With a huge sum of money at stake, the game isn't one to be taken lightly. Our hero, Gabriel Prescott, is hired by Carrick to keep an eye on Hannah when Carrick becomes suspicious of Hannah. Because Gabriel is Carrick's half-brother and he is a pathetic loser desperate to have a family despite being surrounded by a warm cast of supportive characters from previous books, he believes Carrick completely even when it's clear to everyone but that twit that Carrick is the bad guy in the melodrama.
The story takes a few twists and turns so what I have written above is just the tip of the iceberg where the whole melodrama is concerned. I must give Ms Dodd credit for not incorporating amnesia in the story. There are enough problems already, after all, in the characters' behavior and some of the more implausible twists and turns of the story.
The characters, good grief. These are characters who are not exactly the brightest bulbs in the shed, so to speak. Hannah is pretty resourceful towards the end, but throughout the story up to that point, she is behaving like an addled fool who always speaks and does things before she thinks, thus always getting into trouble as a result. Also, she loves to play the martyr. I have never seen someone hold on to a personal moral code to the point of malnourishment, and we are talking about a moral code that doesn't benefit anyone and only serves to show readers how big Hannah is in making foolish gestures of selflessness. Let me put it this way: Hannah had $50,000 but she still couldn't find a way to be happy at the start of the story. Instead, she blew about half the amount trying to get her license back while wallowing in self-pity. What does that tell you about this woman? Mary Balogh has six hundred books out in 2009, shouldn't Ms Dodd let that dear corner the market on heroines too stupid for words and keep those martyrs out of her own books?
As for Gabriel, he's the most stupid character in this story. No, really. He has everything on tape, but it is only late in the story when he reviews the tapes does he go pretty much, "Uh... duh... misjudged Hannah... oops." And of course, his timing is perfect: he lies to Hannah up to the point when he is really to confess, the very point where Hannah discovers his deception before he can speak and understandably believes that he has played her for a fool and slept with her in the process. Then again, he's the one who insists that he's in love with a woman that he at the same time judges to be a harlot slut murderess whore, so I probably shouldn't expect better from him. For a man who was supposed to have made a million dollars by the age of twenty-one, he is frankly as thick as lead.
The story also serves up some implausible plot points, such as Hannah still being able to get a job at Wal-Mart despite being on the run and how Hannah fails to recognize Gabriel by voice despite speaking to him for a pretty long time in the story.
Having said that, though, the story is a pretty entertaining read the same way that a soap opera can become very addictive to watch once you're hooked. There is a campy and even lurid quality to the Gothic-like plot that I find appealing. The narration is top notch and the pacing is good. As a result, despite the problematic characters and plot developments, I find myself unable to put down this book.
Danger In A Red Dress is not necessarily a good story either as a romance or a suspense, but it is nonetheless a very readable story. I know there are problems with the story, but I can't stop turning the pages. It's all due to the author's abilities, I suspect, and not due to the quality of the story.
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