The Senator's Wife
by Karen Robards
(Delacorte, $23.95, PG) ISBN 0-385-31040-4
I can't remember the last time I disliked a character so intensely as the title character in Karen Robards' The Senator's Wife. I mean, I really disliked this woman. Okay, let's say it. I hated her. Hated her red hair, hated her perfect body, hated her little "look at me, ain't I perfect" sashay. Hated her to the point where I started calling her names. Most of them weren't very nice. Selfish *%$#@ figured frequently.

Most of all, I hated the fact that I hated this woman because I love Karen Robards' books. Got 'em all, re-read them regularly, underline the good parts and read them to my friends. So I was desperately disappointed that one of my favorite authors would create such a trashy, morally vapid chick who, as far as I'm concerned, served no real purpose on the face of the earth other than to take up oxygen.

I thought, well, maybe the author is tired of writing about "normal" women – women who lead fairly normal lives until some great mystery knocks on their door and they find themselves running from hit men or killers or trapped in the wilderness. Maybe she got tired of inventing down-to-earth heroes who are on hand to help the heroine (despite her protestations) and fall breathlessly in love while doing it. So, if her goal was to create a woman (I won't call her a heroine, she's the complete opposite as far as I'm concerned) who has no moral scruples, and a guy who is shallow enough to fall for her then, well…she succeeded.

Ronnie Honneker is the second wife of a Mississippi senator up for re-election. Tom Quinlan is the political spin-doctor assigned the task of boosting Ronnie's seriously sad approval ratings. The public hates her. At half the senator's age, the public views Ronnie as the Yankee slut who broke up the senator's longtime marriage. True or not, she married the good ol' boy to get to his money. Oh, she "thinks" she loved him but she really loves the stuff his money provides.

Ronnie is not a reflection of the All-American woman. She looks like she stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Her legs are too long, her skirts are too short, she wears diamonds and pearls to speaking engagements at county fairs, and thinks a good day's work is a dozen laps around a kidney-shaped pool. When an irate voter at rally tosses a bucket of red paint over her, Ronnie freaks. "Was it acid?" she cries. That's her nightmare – that someone will ruin her looks.

Tom is a divorced father on his way back from a political debacle who is instantly attracted to Ronnie but determined not to do anything about it. The Senator's Wife, however, has other ideas. When a tabloid prints reports that the lecherous senator has had long-running relations with a prostitute, Ronnie decides that what's good for the gander is good for the goose. She goes after Tom with a vengeance and fires him when she is rejected. Of course Tom continues his work…and Ronnie continues hers.

Ronnie vows to nail Tom and goes to great lengths to do so, artfully arranging her bikini-clad self on lounge chairs, and wearing cut to the navel dresses to political functions.

"She certainly wasn't worried about her appearance: She knew she looked good…Tom would probably say it was too sexy – for a senator's wife. With a small smile Ronnie acknowledged to herself that for once Tom would be right…She looked beautiful, she knew."

Don't you just want to slap her?

Behaving like a dog in heat, Ronnie finally succeeds in seducing Tom. Their "love affair" consists of motel room meetings and assorted quickies. It is only after Tom declares himself unable to continue with this wholesome lifestyle that Ronnie realizes she's in love with him. Love? This woman wouldn't know love it bit her in her perfectly shaped ass.

I found the book's subplot involving the dirty old senator's part in the murder of a party girl to be far more compelling than the so-called romance between Ronnie and Tom. The Senator is a slimebag even more morally corrupt than his wife, but I still had no sympathy for her. He married Ronnie because he couldn't get her into bed without a ring. She married him because she grew up lower-middle class in a Boston suburb and vowed that she'd never be poor. (Stand up and say it loud: I'm a golddigger and I'm proud!) She had to wear a dress from a second hand shop to her senior prom. What a tragedy! She actually breaks down and cries about her poor tortured past and Tom actually comforts her. Typical man…thinking with his other head again.

The book's mystery takes over the last third of the book, and it was only then that I began to see glimpses of the Karen Robards I know and love. Unfortunately, the action is too little and too late. Though it hardly saves the story, the suspense did, at least, tamp down my annoyance somewhat.

I'm just glad I didn't run out and pay $23.00 for this. I'd have been demanding my money back.

--Ann McGuire

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