Dying to Please, by Linda Howard

>> Thursday, November 18, 2004

After Cry No More, the other Linda Howard I had in my TBR, Dying to Please, sounded very tempting.

Loyal. Beautiful. Professional. Impeccably organized. Potentially lethal. Sarah Stevens is a woman with many distinct qualities. First and foremost a butler par excellence, skilled at running large households smoothly and efficiently, she is also a trained bodyguard and expert marksman–indispensable to her elderly employer, a courtly gentleman whom Sarah has come to respect and love as a father.

Then one night she thwarts a burglary in progress, a courageous act that rewards Sarah her requisite “fifteen minutes of fame” with the local press. But the exposure is enough to catch the attention of a tortured soul who, unbeknownst to Sarah, will stop at nothing to have her for himself.

Sarah’s perfectly ordered life is shattered when tragedy strikes: her beloved employer is brutally murdered. The detective investigating the case, assures Sarah that she is not a suspect. Until lightning strikes twice. There’s a second killing–and this time, despite a lack of evidence connecting her to the crime, Sarah cannot escape the shadow of guilt.

The only option left for Sarah is to carry on with her life. But she doesn’t realize that a deranged stalker is luring her into an elaborate trap . . . one in which she, once ensnared, might never escape. For Sarah soon finds herself at the mercy of a man who will tend to her every whim, smother her with affection, and crush her in his all-consuming embrace.
Very disappointing, I'm afraid. It was very readable, as all of Howard's books always are, neither the romance nor the suspense were up to par, here. A big let-down, after loving Cry No More so much. My grade: a C.

The first problem I detected was that I wasn't too enthused by the suspense subplot. I'm up to here with mad murderers! I suppose it's much easier for author's too use the "he's mentally disturbed" motivation than to find a realistic one for someone to kill, but it bores me. This guy being so obsessed with Sarah being HIS just wasn't interesting. Plus, given the lack of an understandable motivation, the sheer number of deaths were even more disturbing.

And then I started noticing I wasn't really warming up to the characters. I felt strangely cool towards them and I didn't really know why, until bang!, I got to a scene where they're having dinner at Cahill's house and he tunes in to Fox News for background noise. Then it hit me, the reason I wasn't liking them all that much was that they were both so very conservative. I ordinarily don't have a problem with someone being more conservative than me, but these two feel like the kind of people who'd jeer at me for being a bleeding heart liberal.

And then I started seeing conservatism all over the place, from Sarah's adoration of anything military , to everyone driving SUVs, from Howard's obvious worship for the fact that this is such a rich people's town ("the town clock is a Rolex!!!") to the killer being someone who doesn't like red meat (and a half-joking comment that considering how he'd turned out, he should beat a path to a certain hamburger place and hope he could be saved). Those details weren't really overwhelming in themselves, but the accumulation made me uncomfortable and did become overwhelming in the end.

Apart from that, the romance was had some interesting aspects. It felt more "real life" than usual, with all those little man-woman power games, for all these two prided themselves on being honest and not playing games. Problem is, I didn't particularly like this.

I did like that Sarah didn't allow her entire life to be ruled by her relationship with Cahill. She needed a new job, she found one and didn't simply continue living with him. So this made it even worse when in the end, she simply gives up her lifelong dream of travelling the world for him, doesn't even make it an issue. They'd previously talked about making a compromise about it, so I thought maybe she'd decide to travel for less time and he'd take some leave and go with her, or something, but in the end, she gives up everything (even, possibly, her career, it isn't really made clear in the epilogue) prefering instead simply to marry him.

At least this one was written before Cry No More, so I can hope her next is more like that one!


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