To Trust a Stranger
After several attempts on her life, a former beauty queen turned trophy wife is forced To Trust a Stranger. Unbeknownst to her, the man she’s been married to for eight years has mob connections and a history of mysteriously-disappeared wives. The attractive stranger she falls for has a personal stake in bringing her husband down.
Julie Carlson has noticed a pattern: at around midnight, when her husband Sid thinks she’s asleep, he leaves the house. Susupecting him of adultery, she follows him one night to a shady dive, where she loses him and the Jag she’s driving after an encounter with car thieves. Just as she finds herself stranded in a dingy alley, an unlikely rescuer appears on the scene. Dressed in women’s clothing, Mac McQuarry at first doesn’t bother to correct Julie’s misconception that he’s gay and harmless.
What Julie doesn’t know is that Mac, a private investigator and former cop, is investigating her husband. Fifteen years ago, his brother mysteriously disappeared along with Sid’s first wife. Convinced that foul play was involved, Mac probed relentlessly into Sid’s activities – until the mob’s insidious machinations cost him his badge. With Julie’s help, he hopes to expose much more than Sid’s sexual proclivities.
However, it soon becomes apparent that someone wants Julie dead. Her association with Mac has just put them both on top of the mob’s most wanted list, and they must work together to keep history from repeating itself.
The last book I read involving a marriage gone awry was Nora Roberts’ Dance Upon the Air. In that book, the main character fakes her own death to escape her unhinged spouse. Then she develops a relationship with another man who has no clue about her past. This creates a temporary buffer of time and distance between her old marriage and her new romance.
By contrast, in To Trust a Stranger, Julie’s marital status is no secret to the hero, whom she hires to spy on her Sid. As a result, the little matter of the heroine’s being married is conspicuously wedged into the heart of the romance. When the heroine in a romance is married to someone other than the hero, it’s usually clear that her bond with her husband is irreparably broken. Sid is portrayed as so mean and chauvinistic that Julie can’t possibly still love him, and she’s already decided to get a divorce even before she sleeps with Mac.
In spite of this, her relationship with Mac never really emerges from the shadow of her marriage. For one thing, their first two love scenes occur immediately after she finds potential proof that Sid is cheating. Julie denies it when Mac crudely refers to one of their encounters as a “revenge f—“, but her rationalization isn’t entirely convincing. Take for instance this altercation she has with Sid. When he accuses her of seeing Mac on the side, she blandly replies, “Actually, I slept with him this afternoon.”
To make that tableau even tackier, Mac is standing by her side at the time.
I also found little to like about Julie. I understand she’s paranoid about getting fat, since she used to be Miss South Carolina and now designs clothes for pageant contestants. But her obsessive dieting quickly becomes grating; I half-expected her to overcome it in the end, but it’s almost glorified in the book. It’s unnecessary anyway, if Mac’s constant commentary about her physical perfection is to be believed. Is there anything more annoying than a hero who’s always gushing about how gorgeous his inamorata is?
Yes there is – a heroine who’s TSTL. When Julie refuses to believe she’s in grave danger and stubbornly rejects Mac’s urgent efforts to keep her safe, the book actually dipped into D territory for me. However, the startlingly gripping climax raised the grade. Once the two fix the issues between them, their partnership truly becomes interesting. The action sequences that followed meshed well with fine character development, so that despite the book’s flaws, I thought the last several chapters embodied what romantic suspense should be.
Robards has certainly written better books, including Nobody’s Angel, a historical I read years ago and loved, and her much-vaunted Walking After Midnight. But to be fair, To Trust a Stranger has sensual love scenes and a riveting pace that make the book easy to get into. Given its hardcover price, though, if you want to read it, I’d recommend borrowing it from the library or waiting for the paperback.