Stuart: Shadow Lover and
The Right Man
Shadow Lover showcases Stuart's mastery of romantic suspense. Like a branch carried on the winds of a freakish April snowstorm, prodigal son Alex McDowell returns to the arms of his wealthy family after an 18-year absence.
Alex's dying mother, Sally, exults in his presence, ascribing the changes in Alex's appearance and manner to time and maturity. The servants embrace him without question. Even Sally's brother Warren accepts Alex's all-too-timely reappearance, despite the large dent it puts in Warren's own share of Sally's estate.
But Sally's adopted daughter Carolyn Smith knows the dangerously seductive man presenting himself as Alex MacDowell must be a fraud. Carolyn saw the real Alex MacDowell die on a Martha's Vineyard beach 18 years ago.
But death dogs the footsteps of the false Alex too. Soon someone tries to kill the impostor. Or is Carolyn the killer's real target?
The Right Man presents the lighter side of Stuart's magic. Susan Abbott of the Connecticut Abbotts is about to make the worst mistake of her life: marrying the "prince" of Matchfield, Conn. Into her life strides Jake Wyczynski, "looking like a cross between Indiana Jones and an aging hippie."
Jake brings a series of presents from the godmother Susan's never met, including an exquisitely lovely, vintage wedding gown. Soon Susan finds herself living a time-travel fairy tale that is half Cinderella, half Sleeping Beauty, but without any guarantee of happily ever after. The wedding gown is cursed. The last woman to wear it died on her wedding night.
As always, Stuart's characters pulse with life. In The Right Man, she captures the determination and well-repressed doubts of her thoroughly Nineties heroine. Then Stuart turns around and convincingly infuses Susan Abbott's persona into the body, mind and heart of Susan's aunt Tallulah, the last bride to wear the cursed gown. That virtuoso feat alone is worth the price of the book.
Readers can also revel in the sly Stuart jokes, such as the baby Krissie who plays a surprisingly large role in Tallulah's story. According to Stuart, AKA Sister Krissie the Impeccably Demure, baby Krissie is Stuart herself at age one.
Lovers of Stuart's bad boy heroes will also relish the way the physically identical Jake Wyczynski and Alex MacDowell mirror and contrast each other. And either one is almost enough to make me develop a yen for Stuart's model, Val Kilmer, even though, unlike Stuart, I preferred the twinkly Roger Moore version of The Saint.
But I must confess I prefer Shadow Lover to The Right Man for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. A category romance with strict size limits, The Right Man offers the reader less opportunity to wallow in the story.
In contrast, the longer romantic suspense format of Shadow Lover allows Stuart to tighten the screws of interpersonal tension until every line vibrates with expectation, palpable threat and dangerous longing. No one captures the awareness of two people fighting an overpowering attraction better than Stuart. Shadow Lover hums with that awareness until the last word of its thoroughly satisfying last page.
Jean Marie Ward