To Go: 64
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
35. A Necessary End — Peter Robinson
36. Envy — Sandra Brown
Finished reading: June 25, 2013
As I mentioned in my last post, this summer I’ve been on the look out for new mysteries to read, since I’ve read all the Connelly books. While I was in the bookstore in June I noticed a bunch of Sandra Brown novels, and, having enjoyed her newer books, decided to go back and read her older works. They’re a mix of mystery and romance, usually, which seemed to suit my preferences perfectly. I started with Envy, because the premise immediately hooked me.
In Envy, Maris Matherly Reed, heiress to the Matherly publishing house, is wading through the slush pile when she comes across a tantalizing manuscript from an author who identifies himself only as PME, and leaves no return address, and no phone number. Desperate to meet the writer, she tracks him down to an eerie, ramshackle cotton plantation on a Georgia island. There she meets Parker Evans, the bitter, wheelchair-bound writer whose manuscript, a tale of two young friends and a deadly betrayal, may be closer to reality than fiction, and has a connection to Maris’s own life.
In theory, the plot for Envy was a fantastic idea. A story of deception, revenge and, of course, writing, it had all the hallmarks of a brilliant novel. In practice, the execution was severely lacking. It was likely because the characters of Envy were templates instead of real, fleshed out, believable people. It was hard to care about anyone; they were all character sketches that relied heavily on well-played stereotypes.
Maris was the typical hard-working rich girl: she’ll inherit into wealth, but she’s brilliant, dedicated, and determined to earn her success—in short, she has no flaws to speak of. Her father, Daniel, is the shrewd patriarch who sees straight to the heart of people, even when others can’t; her husband, Noah, is the maniacal cackling, scheming villain who has no real motivation other than to be a jerk and to inconvenience Maris. And it’s an indication of poor characterization and somewhat lazy plotting that after reading the novel and ruminating on it for over a month, I still can’t decipher what Noah’s actual character motivations were for his repeated villainy. Parker falls easily into the stereotype of gruff love interest with a secretly romantic heart and good intentions. The only slight difference here—and, admittedly, kudos for diversity, which isn’t often present in romance novels—is that Parker is in a wheelchair.
The events that led to Parker needing to use a wheelchair, which gradually reveal themselves over the course of Envy, are supposed to make him more sympathetic (if you weren’t already swayed to like him by his role as love interest). But it’s hard to sympathize with someone who ruthlessly uses the woman he says he loves, and treats her like a trophy in his years’-long pissing contest with Noah, revealing a lot about the way he views women (hint: Maris isn’t the first woman to get caught between Parker and Noah). Someone like Parker, who already makes advances that sound more like sexual harassment, and is, generally speaking, a revenge-driven cad, is hard to root for. At the end of a romance novel you’re supposed to cheer when the main couple get together, but there was no cheering on my end. Even if she was a cookie-cutter character template, Maris deserves better than Parker. All women deserve better than Parker.
On the plus side, and in an Alanis Morisette-level “ironic” twist, Parker was the novel’s most well-developed character.
I guess you have to take your victories where you can get them.
Next book: The Preacher — Camilla Lackberg