To Die For
by Melanie George, contemporary (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7121-3


It will be so easy to dismiss To Die For outright as a bad Diana Palmer imitation and give it a big fat zero, but Melanie George surprises me with her ability to write bad, lurid, over-melodramatic psychosexual stuff that I find pretty enjoyable. Alas, these elements come into play only late into the story, and by then irreparable damages have been inflicted all over this story. No logic, a pair of leads who must have lead for brains, and a plot so vehemently misogynistic that it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth - Diana Palmer, be very afraid, Melanie George's gonna be the boogeywoman in your closet.

Abby St James, the braindead caregiver "I'm so ugly and unlovable, so don't mind my big breasts and luscious thighs, I'm ugly dammit!" doormat nervous-breakdown prone train wreck of a heroine, has a twin sister, Michaela, who is the slut. Michaela lives with her daddy and is a career woman as well. Slut and career? Oh dear. In romance novels, that combination usually leads to the romance author taking a baseball bat and whacking those evil women into an equivalent of a coma or a repentance. And yes, I'm not disappointed. Michaela will literally bleed for her sins of having sex and playing her games in a man's world.

Anyway, their late (murdered?) daddy has willed his publishing powerhouse to Abby. Why not Michaela, the one who has the brainpower to run the business? Well, the author tells me that daddy is guilty over neglecting the braindead daughter or something. It's like giving a loaded gun to a chimpanzee out of love. Abby, the smart one, decides the run the company for the length of time stipulated by the will before she will hand it over to Michaela.

But so as to not run the company to the ground while she's as it, she decides to learn the ropes first. How? By reading up? Talking to people in the business? For some reason I dare not analyze, our braindead twin sister decides to pose as Michaela. Really. If the family business is killing people for money or pushing drugs to grade school kiddies, I may understand the need for deception. But this is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, the man running the business and clashing heads with Michaela is Stefan Massari. To get rid of annoying inconveniences like the need to show why two people would fall in love, Ms George decides to make Abby having a crush on Stefan like, forever! (So here we have one man who hates one twin while unable to distinguish the other twin who has been in love with him for a decade so he mistakes the braindead twin as the slut twin and hates her while wanting her - are you still with me, people?)

The plot, by its very nature, has the hero weighing the two twin sisters - slut versus braindead virgin - and then heavy-handedly choosing innocence, purity, and idiocy after bombarding me with nonsense like how naive or guileless or other rot that Abby is. Of course Abby is guileless and naive - she doesn't even have a brain!

More stupefying is how Abby is constantly terrified of Stefan that she literally has a nervous breakdown and faints the moment she sees him. Of all the vertebrae in Abby's body, the spine is noticeably absent. Later she will encounter the Bitch Stepmother, and later on she will be wailing that she loves Stefan, too bad he doesn't reciprocate. Love here, people, is loving a jerk no matter what and the reward is he finally, after pushing your face into the unflushed toilet bowl and calling you all the synonyms for prostitute, realizes how wrong he is when you finally bursts into helpless tears of purity and other euphemism for criminally brainsucked and he wipes your dung-smeared face with a roll of Kleenex. It's okay because he's doing the wiping, and Big Daddy will now protect you forever and ever and ever. That, people, is love, Diana Palmer and now Melanie George style.

The author attempts to put in some I Survived Rape elements as some power statement thing, but her inept and shoddy characterization only results in an even more unbalanced polarization of all the women in this story. They are either victims (the holy Virgins like Abby and Stefan's sister) or the Whores and Jezebels that will later be murdered and mutilated in a most gory manner. All of them suffer. If this is schadenfraude, I'd like to know who exactly is supposed to be enjoying this. Me? I think I have experienced vicarious gonad shrinking after reading this bitter, bitter crap. Brett Easton Ellis at least has the excuse of being a bitter old hag. What's Melanie George's excuse?

But the killer thing is pretty good. Okay, the whole plot relies way too much on Braindead Virgin here walking off in dark lanes while weeping that she is unloved, but there is some atmosphere that works. Some, that is. For too long, events are catalyzed by the heroine's stupidity. The only way Ms George is reaching that finishing line is if she has Braindead Abby eviscerated with a chainsaw.

And oh yes, the killer. What happened to the good old days when people kill for money and fame? What happened to those witty, clever criminals who plot dastardly but cunning schemes that will make Hercule Peirot proud? Like so many so-called romantic suspense (a friend of mine actually wonders aloud, "Plotting And Suspense must be for Non-Romance Authors only"), the villain here is a complete, ridiculous, overblown psycho who must have watched way too many Hannibal Lecter movies.

To Die For is a tired formulaic rehash of below average cookie-cutter romantic suspense (stupid heroine + misogynist hero + perfunctory sex scenes + psycho killer who raves and rants about his plot while pointing a gun at our heroine before meeting his just rewards) with added bonus of lurid, overblown misogynist overtones. This isn't romantic suspense as much as a suspenseful tale of what happened to all the braincells at the work behind the plotting and characterization that go into play in creating this book.

Books like To Die For will only cement the use of the phrase "romantic suspense" as an euphemism for "no-brainer wannabes". Not that it's a bad thing - I look forward to the day I can mock suspense novels the way suspense fans mock romance novels, and Melanie George and so many others joining the ranks of those authors can only be a step towards the right direction. Heh heh heh. Okay, I'm petty, but come on, I have just finished this book, and I need all the little consolation I can get from this sad, sad world I'm living in.

Rating: 38


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