His Perfect Family
by Patti Standard
(Silh. Romance #1365, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-19365-3
***
Adrianne Rhodes' husband is killed in a car wreck, barely an hour after he supposedly absconded with $25,000 in embezzled funds. However, when the police reach the scene of the accident, the money is gone. The number one suspect is Adrianne.

Six months later the insurance company hires Cutter Matchett, ex-naval intelligence, to investigate the disappearance of the money. Cutter, a skilled carpenter, is hired to add a bathroom to Adrianne's home. His presence there will allow him to snoop when nobody's there. All undercover work should be so easy. He first meets Adrianne when she catches him snooping through her closet. Whoops!

Cutter's got an immediate problem, and it's not just that he's been caught snooping. His intelligence background makes it easy for him to come up with a glib alibi. He's attracted to Adrianne and is being drawn into her family problems: a nosy mother and an overweight teenaged daughter. Cutter knows he's over his head emotionally when Lisa, the teenager, hires him to investigate and determine her father's guilt or innocence.

His Perfect Family began inauspiciously. When a plot centers around a 'Deception' or 'Big Misunderstanding', the clock is merely ticking down until the grand unmasking, the hour of accountability. From the beginning, we know that Cutter is investigating Adrianne, hence the deception thread. What brings His Perfect Family up to an acceptable rating are the family dynamics, both hers and his.

It's easy for Cutter to notice that both Adrianne and her mom tend to avoid reality and wear rose-colored glasses. Adrianne thinks that having cookies or cake ready when her daughter comes home will help the teenager deal more easily with the loss of her father. When Cutter points out that Lisa's weight condition is not 'baby fat,' it takes quite a while for Adrianne to accept that she is an enabler and has got to be honest with herself, as well as her daughter. Reality is not something that she's had a lot of practice accepting easily.

Cutter's parents are also an unusual set of secondary characters, both of them retired and becoming unable to care for their large home. Selling it, however, will force them and Cutter to admit that their family is changing. Cutter is having to take a long look at his father, finally seeing him in a more realistic light, which in turn forces Cutter to see a new side of himself.

The mystery surrounding the missing money is answered satisfactorily, with an entertaining quirk. While this doesn't have a strong romance, it is an appealing one. The 'Deception' wasn't blown out of proportion. Cutter, Adrianne and Lisa were in the process of forming deep emotional ties. His Perfect Family really got better the longer I read it. It's just too bad that it didn't have more pages.

--Linda Mowery


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