Deception

Suspicion

 
Trust No One by Christiane Heggan
(Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-536-0
***
Trust No One is an interesting, page-turning read with a satisfyingly complex mystery plot. Note that I say mystery plot, rather than subplot. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is a flat-out mystery novel, the mystery carries much more weight in the story than the romance.

In fact, the mystery takes up so much of the book’s time and is joined by so many other relationships and subplots that the romance emerges only minimally.

Julia Bradshaw is a divorced single mother and the owner of a struggling bed-and-breakfast in Monterey, California. When her creep of an ex-husband turns up dead one day -- shot in his own house -- Julia’s main concern is for her six-year-old son and the grief he’ll have to go through. Until she finds out that she is a prime suspect in the murder case.

Suddenly, her life becomes incredibly complicated. Her ex-husband, Paul Bradshaw, was a prominent citizen, a town councilman and the son of a very popular former California governor. The local community turns against Julia, her ex-father-in-law threatens to sue for custody of her son, and the police are just waiting for the damning evidence they need to throw her in jail. All Julia wants is to be cleared of suspicion and to return to the peaceful, if not exactly carefree, life she’d led before the murder. Unfortunately for her, things are about to get even more complicated.

Through a series of events, a group of Irish militant extremists called Gleic Eire is brought into the picture. It seems a little unlikely that this group, known for its vicious terrorist bombings, would go to the trouble of murdering one rather unimportant California town councilman. But the group had (without specific intent) killed Paul’s sister eight years earlier -- she was walking past the British Consulate in Manhattan when a bomb went off. And Paul had scheduled a much-hyped press conference for the day after his murder, although no one knew what he’d planned to reveal at that conference. Could he have found information on the terrorist group that posed such a threat to them that they would kill him?

Steve Reyes thinks it’s possible. A former investigative reporter for a New York newspaper, Steve has spent the last few years on a houseboat in Florida, taking it easy and trying to forget a tragedy in his own past. But he had been heavily involved in tracking Gleic Eire after the New York bombing that killed Paul Bradshaw’s sister, and when he hears they may have struck the same family again, he decides -- for very personal reasons -- to come briefly out of his early retirement.

So he heads for California, booking a room at Julia Bradshaw’s bed-and-breakfast, and begins his own investigation of the murder and the possible Gleic Eire connection. Wary of the press, Julia gives him a bit of a hard time when he arrives. That lasts for about an hour, and in record time Steve has become a pretty intimate member of the family. Apparently, he’s just so darn charming that Julia can’t help trusting him implicitly -- even going so far as to let him baby-sit her son after knowing him for roughly one day.

That really bothered me. I mean, this is a woman who has every reason to be suspicious of strangers, and who is just about as devoted a mother as you could possibly find. But she trusts this stranger whom she really knows nothing about, allowing him access to her son and to some fairly private family moments. It just didn’t ring true -- after all, Julia doesn’t know that Steve is the hero of a romance novel.

Although I did know that Steve was the hero of a romance novel, even I didn’t trust him completely. He’s a bit too slick, and a lot too manipulative. As a reporter, he prides himself on knowing how to influence people in order to get the information he wants. He flirts, he charms, he lies, he antagonizes, he deliberately and consciously pushes all the right buttons until he has what he wants. It was all a bit off-putting, that the supposedly independent and levelheaded Julia can’t see past his “charm oozing from every pore.”

Meanwhile, a lot of things are happening in the novel. The investigation of Paul’s murder rolls along, Gleic Eire makes a few moves, Julia’s long-lost father reappears, and Andrew looks forlorn and cute. Julia and Steve work together to solve all the mysteries, and occasionally find time to have a few conversations and fall in love.

There’s a lot going on, but the various mysteries stand alone in keeping things interesting. The subplot involving Julia’s father could have been a book on its own if it had been well-executed, but it’s given so little of this book’s space that it feels cloyingly over-sweet, too easily resolved, and generally hard to swallow. The romance between Julia and Steve feels obligatory -- nothing about their interactions made me believe that they were particularly right for each other.

But I have to give Trust No One points for the compelling and well-conceived mystery plot. Because I could never quite work out all the elements, I never lost interest, and the author threw in a terrific twist that I didn’t see coming at all. Ms. Heggan’s writing is smooth and generally unobtrusive, and -- except for a couple of over-the-top clichés -- her characters are believable and sufficiently developed.

It’s an easy, interesting read, and if you don’t mind the lack of compelling romance, this might be the book for you.

--Ellen Hestand


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