Someone to Watch Over Me
Well, it underwent a title change, and its publication was delayed, postponed, delayed. Meanwhile, rumors flew across the Internet: it was a contemporary – no, it was a time-travel – no, it was an historical – then it was a time-travel contemporary romantic suspense. Some readers lost patience, but others hung in there, sure they’d love it no matter what, because, after all, we’re talking about Judith McNaught. Here’s the good news about Someone To Watch Over Me: it’s definitely an improvement over Night Whispers, which I found predictable and plodding. But was it worth the wait? If they’re like me, fans of McNaught won’t be disappointed.
Broadway star Leigh Kendall wakes up in a hospital room in upstate New York. She’d been on her way to join her husband Logan Manning at the secluded Catskills hideaway he’d picked out, but the site’s remoteness and a blizzard caused Leigh to lose her way. Rear-ended by another car, she crashed through a guardrail and plunged down a steep hillside. It’s a miracle that anybody rescued her – or was it? Now, there’s no trace of her rescuer, or her husband, and Leigh is growing more and more frantic.
Assigned to the high-profile case, newbie detective Samantha Littleton is eager to prove herself to her colleagues. As the investigation into Logan’s disappearance focuses on Leigh, the police turn up evidence that the perfection of her marriage may be an illusion. The others close in on Leigh, ready to pressure her into admitting that she had a good reason to be rid of her husband, but Sam listens to her gut and refuses to believe the actress had anything to do with Logan’s disappearance. Her interest shifts to Michael Valente, a notorious businessman who has a history of run-ins with law enforcement; Valente’s got a peripheral connection to Logan’s latest land-development project. The small task force, headed by legendary detective Mitchell McCord, hones in on Valente. Sam tries very hard to keep her attention on the case and find out everything she can about Michael Valente, but more and more she discovers herself trying to figure out just what make Lieutenant McCord tick.
Then a body turns up and things get really interesting.
The suspense worked for me. I didn’t guess who the villain was until well past the halfway point, always a good thing; there were clues to the perpetrator’s identity, but nothing was heavy-handed, and there were even a couple of enjoyable blind alleys to stumble down. McNaught’s abilities in setting a scene and describing it vividly are in ample evidence throughout the book, and her ear for believable, natural-sounding dialogue is one of the best in the genre. She’s got a real skill for developing and maintaining great sexual tension; there’s this one scene in a stairwell that…well, read it and see for yourself. And the love scene (only one), while merely warm, gets pretty darn warm.
So, why a B instead of an A, or even an A-? A few things. First is Leigh: she never came alive for me. That might be because she shares what I consider a trait with so many other of McNaught’s heroines – they’re too perfect (c’mon, admit it – didn’t Julie get on your nerves at least once in Perfect? And, self-esteem issues aside, let’s not even talk about Whitney, My Love!). Until the moment the story begins, Leigh’s adult life has been one long dream, complete with wildly successful career, perfect home, a husband who showers her with love and affection, a name-dropping (and jaw-dropping) lifestyle. Even a potential problem – a stalker – is portrayed at first as just another occupational hazard of celebrity.
Then there’s the complication brought on by the reappearance of a mysterious figure from Leigh’s past. Without entering too far into spoiler territory, let’s just say that I made the connection between that person and someone in her present as soon as both of them showed up on the pages. But for me the biggest disappointment was that I found the secondary pair – the cops – far, far more interesting than the primary couple. Maybe part of that is because I got to see Samantha think and act, rather than spend most of her time reflecting and reacting, as Leigh does. And Mitch McCord held my attention much more than…well, let’s just say the guy Leigh ends up with. Watching McCord’s increasingly desperate struggle against his attraction to Sam was vastly more riveting and engaging for me than witnessing the other fellow’s relentless, if tender, seduction of Leigh.
What else? The climax of the suspense part let me down a little. Could someone please write a villain who doesn’t turn out to be evil and psychotic? And – again skirting close to spoiler-land here – Leigh’s reactions to the truth about her marriage rang just a little false to me: where was the deep anger that Logan’s betrayal should have engendered? And her becoming intimate with…the other man happened way too soon, to my thinking. Normally, objections like these will throw me right out of the story and make me want to fling the book down; it’s the gift of a great writer that in spite of these obstacles I continued to read, and even enjoy, the book as much as I did.
McNaught always throws in a couple of trademark words and phrases in her books, and I keep an eye out for them just like I’m on the lookout for Alfred Hitchcock in all his movies. Devoted McNaughtites can rest assured: the infamous (or anticipated) “aching whisper” is uttered on p.395, and a couple manages to “wend” their way across a room on p.29. Cheap thrills, I know, but it added something to the read for me.
A couple of secondary characters will be familiar to long-time readers: Joe O’Hara, Matt and Meredith Farrell’s chauffeur from Paradise, is on temporary loan to Leigh as a bodyguard/driver, and one of the neighbors in her apartment building is Courtney Maitland, Noah’s little sister from Night Whispers. I’m sure there are others I’ve missed, but that only underscores my point: other authors could learn a thing or two about incorporating minor, recurring characters from McNaught, who displays a deft knack for connecting her books without joining them all at the hip.
You may think that this review is too full of negatives for it to deserve a B. All I can say is this: what McNaught does that irritates me, irritates me only a little. What she does well, she does extremely well, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more. If you liked Night Whispers, you’re going to love Someone To Watch Over Me. If you’re a fan of this author but hated or merely tolerated Night Whispers, you’re going to really enjoy Someone To Watch Over Me. This book demonstrates that I can safely put Judith McNaught back on my auto-read list.