The Devil's Due

Devil May Care

To Die For by Melanie George
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7121-3
Abby St. James arrives at the New York publishing offices of Bastion, the glitzy magazine formerly owned by her late father. Since his death, her twin sister Michaela has been the nominal head of the magazine. Micky has been married three times and led a wildly promiscuous life; she is widely disliked by all the magazine’s staff, particularly the publisher Stefan Massari.

The twins were separated when their parents divorced. Micky stayed in New York with their father; Abby moved to Idaho with her mother. In contrast to her sister, Abby has led a confined life. Nursing her mother through a lengthy, ultimately fatal illness has consumed most of her time and energies. Moreover, a near-rape has left her cautious around men.

Stefan and others on the magazine staff mistake Abby for Micky, and she is greeted with hostility. In Micky’s absence, Abby is living in her apartment and assumes Micky’s role at the magazine. Gradually she remedies her ignorance about magazine publishing. In spite of his unwanted attraction to her, Stefan still distrusts the woman he believes is Micky, but he has to acknowledge that she is proposing some sensible ideas about new directions for the magazine.

Abby is also drawn to the handsome publisher, but other activities at the apartment and in her life intrude on her happiness. She is fearful that either she or Micky is being stalked, and she witnesses a possible crime in the apartment across from hers. Can she depend on Stefan?

A good romance demands a hero and heroine the reader can care about. Characters whose problems and happiness strike a sympathetic chord in the reader. The hero and heroine of To Die For are one-dimensional characters who are solidly cemented in their stereotypical origins. Abby St. James is the retiring, selfless virgin who’s waiting for the strong hero to awaken her. Stefan Massari is the powerful tycoon who’s risen above his working class origins but needs a good woman to make him complete. I can say, however, that Abby and Stefan are best off together. Who’d want to inflict such a whiny, long-suffering heroine on a likable hero?

To Die For does answer Freud’s well-known conundrum: what does a woman want? Based on this book, the answer is: Daddy’s love. If only Daddy had loved them, Micky and Abby wouldn’t have all these problems.

And Abby is a woman with problems. Lots of problems. Lots and lots of problems. Traumatized child of divorce. Neglected by her father. Spent years caring for her dying mother. Attempted rape victim. Stalker victim. Verbally abused by coworkers. Suffering for her twin sister’s immoral lifestyle. Timid and cautious. And more pile up as the story continues. Hanging around her would be like hanging around a train wreck waiting to happen.

Micky, on the other hand, is a slut looking for love in all the wrong places and acting out because the first man in her life ignored her. She’s subconsciously self-destructive because she doesn’t believe she deserves love or respect. Abby and Micky, however, are only running true to type - romances never feature equally well-adjusted, likable twins.

Stefan is one of those heroes who only looks good because there’s a villain in the story who’s worse. He treats Abby with hostility, disdain, and near-brutality. Of course, in the end, he’s won over by her fine, virtuous qualities and becomes her protector, but for me it’s too little too late.

Stefan’s real name is Stephano (which makes much more sense given his Italian heritage). This raises a question. Why is he “Stefan” rather than Steve? Remember the old “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” commercial where the woman says, “I don’t know a Stefan.” Nobody knows a Stefan. What’s more, I’m sure I’ll forget this fictional one quickly.

It’s an indication of how forgettable To Die For is that when I was halfway through I put it aside to read another book and instantly forgot it even existed. When several weeks later I was reminded of it, I had lost all recollection of the plot, the characters, the setting, in fact absolutely every single thing about it. I’ve judged other books wanting in the put-down-pick-up department, but by inducing total book amnesia, this one sets a whole new standard.

Ordinarily I would advise readers to think twice about a two-heart book, but two thoughts over To Die For may be too many.

--Lesley Dunlap

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