Lady's Man

No Ordinary Man

The Paradise Man

You and No Other

Lip Service by Suzanne Simmons
(St. Martin’s, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97299-7
Do you believe in truth in packaging? Tell me, what kind of book would you expect if its title is the rather flip, Lip Service, if the cover is shocking pink, and if the cartoon characters thereon appear to be whispering sweet nothings? Something light and funny, right? Well, while there are a couple of funny scenes and a few amusing secondary characters, this is not a humorous contemporary novel. Perhaps being misled contributed to my dissatisfaction with Suzanne Simmons’ latest book.

The heroine is Schuyler Grant, the wealthy and lovely descendant of one of America’s robber barons. She has lots of money and has just inherited more on the death of her Aunt Cora. But do not think that Schuyler’s life has been a bed of roses. When she was nineteen, her entire family was lost in a boating accident. She fled to Paris after the memorial service and has not been back to the United States since. Now she must return to decide what to do with Grantwood, the family’s magnificent Hudson River estate.

The hero is Trace Ballinger, a man who has shed his Pittsburgh steelworker roots and become a high-powered New York lawyer. Trace had become Cora Grant’s lawyer eight years earlier and has parlayed his connection with the Grants into a lucrative partnership in a prestigious firm. Yet he harbors a deep-seated contempt for the wealthy in general and the Grants in particular. After all, his grandfather died from black lung disease contracted in a Grant mine and his father wore himself out working in a Grant steel mill.

Schuyler and Trace first meet on the road to Grantwood when she nearly runs him down because someone has been trying to drive her off the road. They meet formally the next day when Trace goes over the provisions of Cora’s will. Cora wanted Schuyler to stay at Grantwood and “Lay the ghosts to rest.” She wants Schuyler to uncover the secret of the strange goings on in the estate’s gardens and to solve some mystery about the past.

Given their disparate backgrounds, one might assume that the conflict in Lip Service will center on Trace’s putting aside the resentments of the past. But such is not the case; after one passionate encounter in the gazebo, Trace pretty much decides that the sins of the fathers should not burden the daughter. So that plot possibility dies aborning. Thus, we are thrown back on the external conflict centering on the mysterious doings at Grantwood.

Frankly, this aspect of the story is not especially well done. We know that someone is plotting something against Schuyler for some reason, but the why and the who remains somewhat murky, to say the least. And when all is revealed, the motives of the villain still do not ring true. Indeed, the ending of the book was a huge disappointment to yours truly. It lacked both drama and sense. Until the grand finale, I thought the book was at least an acceptable romance and perhaps a bit better. But the conclusion just seemed so forced and anticlimactic, that my opinion of Lip Service dropped several notches.

The romance between Schuyler and Trace is pleasant enough and Simmons certainly does a good job building the sexual tension between the two. Her love scene is very good too.

But the weaknesses in the plot and the lack of any originality in the characters lead me to suggest that readers might want to think twice before they buy Lip Service, especially if they are expecting the kind of book suggested by its cover.

--Jean Mason

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