Trust Me
by Melanie Craft
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61285-5
***
A congenial if not terribly original book, I found Trust Me a pleasant enough read, but had trouble recalling much about it afterward.

Max Giordano has risen from difficult beginnings as an illegitimate child to become a successful businessman. He recently discovered the identity of his father’s father, but, unsure of his welcome, has not been able to bring himself to approach millionaire Henry Tremayne.

He is not aware that his grandfather even knows of his existence, so when Henry falls, fractures his skull and ends up in the hospital in a coma, Max is astonished to discover that Henry’s will names him trustee of the entire Tremayne estate.

He is, perhaps, somewhat less surprised to find that Henry, an animal lover, has left a sizable bequest to his veterinarian, Carly Martin. Since all he knows about either of them is that Henry is old and Carly is young and attractive, he immediately knows that Carly is a gold-digger who has taken advantage of a lonely old man.

As her inheritance, which includes both money and the Tremayne mansion, is contingent upon her accepting responsibility for Henry’s 37 or so pets, Max approaches Carly and tries to trick her out of it. He tells her about the animals, but neglects to mention the real estate and financial support. Naturally, he’s frustrated when Carly says she’ll take on the menagerie anyway, and offers to take the whole shooting match off her hands for a fraction of its actual value.

His justification? “It was the legacy of the family he’d been imagining since he was a child.” What a prince.

Carly, while surprised by Henry’s generosity, can’t help but be pleased by the possibilities. She’s in a very inequitable position in her current practice, an arrangement she agreed to because she thought was in love with her partner when she decided to go into business with him. The situation is even more uncomfortable because they are no longer lovers and she finds him unreasonable and difficult to deal with. She couldn’t afford to walk away from her financial investment – but an inheritance from Henry would give her options.

The first half of this book is largely about Max looking for proof that Carly is a grasping seductress. Fortunately, his character, which was highly obnoxious in the beginning, is redeemed as he sees her in action and begins to believe that he may have been mistaken about her relationship with his grandfather.

On the other hand, about halfway through the book, the author seems to realize that, if Carly and Max are not at loggerheads about the will, the story has nowhere to go, so she introduces a mystery about what actually happened to Henry. Did he really fall down the stairs, or was this an attempted murder? While she did a nice job keeping the reader guessing, the book would have been vastly more convincing if the author had integrated this mystery plot more effectively right from the beginning. As it was, the first and second halves of the book felt a bit like two different stories.

Carly and Max are likable enough (after Max gives up his suspicions about Carly) but they’re more than a little two-dimensional and we learn little new about them once the mystery plot takes over. Carly is the caregiver stereotype – sweet, kind, generous, not overly assertive. Max is the typical successful businessman who clawed his way up from nothing but remains beset by insecurities over his unsavory youth. The author does not make them more interesting by repeatedly explaining their behavior, as though we might not have understood it when we saw it.

The secondary characters are much more vivid. Henry’s housekeeper, a runaway Carly befriends, and even Carly’s partner have a lot more impact because, with less time and space to devote to them, the author disciplines herself to showing us what they’re like rather than telling us. As a result, these characters jump off the page more than Carly and Max ever do.

In the final analysis, I found this book generally entertaining if not terribly memorable.

-- Judi McKee


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