If ever a title were inaccurate, this is it. Our heroine is neither willful nor married. As a matter of fact, she's quite accommodating as she helps a PI find out who's trying to make her leave a family-owned hotel she's inherited.
Humor is a commodity I value in a story. This started off with a line that caught my fancy. Our hero, Mathis Hazard, is looking at a photograph of Desiree Stratford, a woman who will soon need his protection. When he finds out that Desiree is a curator for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with a specialty in document preservation, he stares at the picture and thinks, Strange, the woman didn't look boring. That was my one and only moment of
delight in this whole story. Talk about people who are dour. Mathis
and Desiree make the couple in Grant Wood's painting,
American Gothic, seem happy.
Maybe Desiree didn't look boring, but the book sure turned out to be.
Desiree has inherited the Hotel Stratford, once the premier small hotel in Chicago, now merely shabbily genteel. Her godfather is concerned that someone wants her out of the hotel business. With that in mind, he hires Mathis Hazard to investigate the situation. One would think that Desiree is perfect. She's a Boston Brahmin (with a name like Desiree?!?), has the right pedigree, attended all the right schools, traveled in all the right circles, to the right destinations and studied all the right subjects. Oh, and she looks like Grace Kelly. Too bad she has no sense of humor.
Mathis is a PI who's almost burned out. He's left his ranch in New Mexico to help Desiree solve the mystery of who's trying to make her leave Hotel Stratford before she's even begun the renovations. Using the classic mystery formula of inserting a chapter about an unknown person, we are made aware that Desiree's problems may be more complex than we realize.
In order to be around Desiree without raising suspicion, Mathis claims that she's his almost-divorced wife. The permanent elderly residents believe the story, but occasionally Mathis thinks that someone is skulking about. He then grabs Desiree for a kiss, just to make sure that no one doubts their story. The incongruity of these two was lost on the residents but I wondered how a curator who works on document preservation could find happiness on a ranch in New Mexico. That picture would never come into focus.
Over and over as I read this story, I wondered why two characters had to be so dull, so lifeless. It was difficult to care about them or to sustain any interest in the story. I rarely find myself apathetic as I read, but I couldn't find much in The Willful Wife to enjoy. It was flat with a tepid mystery that only had a page or two of spark. There was so little contrast between the characters, with not enough sensuality to bolster any attraction.
The Willful Wife suffers from too little humor, too little character development, too tepid a conflict and a mystery that was solved much too easily and quickly. The story needed more. Imagine that it's a plain baked potato. Even salt and pepper would have helped.