Tour’s Books Blog

March 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Danger in a Red Dress by Christina Dodd

I’m feeling kind of doomed with my recent reading selections.  Despite the rather mixed reviews, I bought Danger in a Red Dress in hopes it would live up to the previous books in the series.  (Christina Dodd is a favorite author of mine.)  Dodd’s stories of the illegitimate sons of Nathan Manly played out across Trouble in High Heels, Tongue in Chic, and Thigh High.  All were quite good, but Trouble in High Heels remains my favorite.  It is there we first meet Carrick Manly, the only legitimate son of the fugitive businessman who bankrupted his company and fled the country years ago leaving hundreds of shattered lives in his wake.  (Very Bernie Maydoff long before there was a Bernie Maydoff)  We see Carrick briefly in the books and Gabriel Prescott also is a threaded thru the books – and is quite prominent in Thigh High.  Gabriel is also the adopted brother to the sisters in Dodd’s Lost Texas Hearts series.

The two things that bothered me most about Danger in a Red Dress was the total change in Carrick Manly’s character from how he was portrayed in previous books to a sociopath here.  The other is Gabriel’s blind spot where his half-brother is concerned.  It’s against all logic.  I could deal with Carrick suddenly being a slime ball, though I was hard put to see how men as astute as Roberto Bertolini (Trouble in High Heels) or Gabriel could miss the fact Carrick is a manipulative liar, not to mention a sociopath.  Gabriel, however, was so completely out of character it was like he’d had a personality transplant.  Maybe if you hadn’t read or remembered the earlier books, it wouldn’t be so bothersome, but it was for me.

Ignoring these glaring continuity problems, we’re left with a story where the characters are not especially likable – or very bright.   Hannah Grey is the private care nurse that is accused by a bitter family of having ‘relations’ with their 90+ year old grandfather so he’d change his will.  She inherited $50,000, but the bulk of the millions the greedy relatives counted on went to charity.  One bitter relative gets her nursing license suspended so she can’t work and then makes sure the investigation drags out to deliberately ruin her.  (Though I’m tempted to point out several obvious issues here, I’ll pass.)  Hannah is getting desperate when Carrick, learning of her predicament, gets her to agree to care for his difficult mother at the family estate in Maine.  Hannah thinks it’s a gift too good to be true and doesn’t tell him about her suspended license.  Foolish mistake and one that would cost any nurse her license permanently.

Hannah and Carrick drive up to Maine and she’s deeply attracted to him and thinks it’s mutual.  They arrive at Balfour House, a grand old crumbling pile of a house.  There she meets Nelson the butler and Melinda Manly, a very unpleasant, sickly old woman.  She loathes her son and makes no bones about it.  She takes an instant dislike to Hannah as well, thinking her another of her son’s spies.  The atmosphere is so toxic, Hannah tells Carrick it’s impossible for her to stay.  Carrick then shows his true colors and threatens her with jail for misrepresenting herself as a licensed nurse and so forth.  Hannah is now caught.  If she leaves and gets charged, even if nothing else happens, she’ll lose her credentials forever, so she’s stuck.  The confrontation takes place in the old butler’s office and Mrs. Manly hears it on the intercom – eavesdropping on her son is a habit of hers because she does not trust him at all.  She and Hannah reach a kind of détente and Hannah stays on.

Carrick then convinces Gabriel that Hannah is taking advantage of his mother and has him bug the house.  Not just listening devices, cameras as well.  Gabe decides he’ll do the monitoring as well. (How do these guys that run large multi-national corporations get this kind of time off?)  Supposedly, all this is about getting information for the FBI on where Nathan Manly hid the billions he stole in off-shore accounts so Mrs. Manly won’t go to jail – or even court.  Actually, it’s a ruse so Carrick can steal it and do a bunk like dear old dad.  Carrick plays the concerned son, but shouldn’t a man in security like Gabe verify his client’s story?

So Gabe installs the needed surveillance equipment.  Just before Mrs. Manly’s bedroom is bugged, she shows Hannah the entrance to the secret passage.  Then, just before the fateful Halloween Ball – a hallowed tradition at Balfour and one not observed since Nathan ran off – Mrs. Manly tells Hannah the truth about what happened to all the money her husband stole.  She really does know where it is and she’s worked with her old butler, who was really a computer hacker from South America, to set up a program so the money would be disbursed on her death with certain passwords entered into the old computer in the butler’s office.  She places the responsibility for executing this ‘last request’ on Hannah to prevent Carrick from getting the money.  (Now, if you’re wondering why in hell Hannah didn’t just immediately enter those commands, or call the FBI and tell them what she learned, well, join the crowd!  By keeping silent, she made herself part of an ongoing crime.  )

Hannah when called the local security company to get extra help at the estate.  Gabe intercepts the call and pretends to be the man’s son – only the guy is gay – so Gabe claims to be a college indiscretion.  Being illegitimate herself, Hannah doesn’t question it.   Gabe really turns on the charm, lying the whole time about who he is.  They plan to meet the night of the ball while he’s working security.

During the ball, Mrs. Manly has a spell.  Hannah thinks it’s the start of a heart attack.  She injects what she believes is one drug, but was in fact a drug that caused Mrs. Manly’s death.  She realizes Carrick switched the drugs.  (He’s getting desperate because a criminal he owes major money too wants payment.)  Carrick runs in his mother’s bedroom accusing Hannah of murder and creates a ruckus to cover his deception (where were those video records?).  Hannah is locked in a room to await police and  escapes using one of the secret exits Mrs. Manly told her about and goes on the run.

Months later Hannah runs into Gabe in Houston and pushes him out of the way of a bullet.  They’re both shot and he insists she stay at his condo and help him recuperate – without telling her who he is.  They never met the night of the Balfour ball, so she never knew what “Trent Sansoucy” looked like.  Despite Gabe’s serious wound, he manages to seduce her.  Then she learns he’s been deceiving her and sold her out to Carrick.

In the end, Carrick catches up with Hannah.  Gabe – who finally pulls his head out of his butt about Carrick – comes to the ‘rescue’. And the denouement has Carrick running for his life – but not far.  There’s a spoiler here, but it’s one of the few interesting bits in the whole book.

After an anti-climatic court scene, Hannah gets hauled off to meet Gabe’s sisters who try and convince her Gabe isn’t usually such a damn idiot and he loves her.  I will say Hannah at least gave herself plenty of time before deciding she would reach out, kind of indirectly to Gabe.

The story had a rather Daphne Du Mauier feel to it, without her quality characters.  All the flaws I already discussed aside, I just couldn’t actually like anyone.  Mrs. Manly is not just cantankerous, she’s almost as bad as her son.  She very selfishly allowed lives to be destroyed and then uses the very belated return of the stolen money as what – absolution for her?  Her actions are indefensible.  Though she realizes her son inherited his father’s sociopathic character, she’s not very far from being one herself.  Carrick – well sociopath pretty much covers it.  As for our ‘hero’ Gabe, he came off stupid, naïve, and gullible.  He behaved like some kind of a pervert (He watched Hannah pleasure herself on the hidden camera in her bedroom.  Very creepy.) and a moron to boot.  It’s hard to believe he’s the same shrewd, observant guy that set Mac MacNaught straight on handling Nessa in Thigh High.  Even Hannah is kind of a twit, lacking the character and pride of Nessa or Brandi in the prior books, both of whom stood and fought their problems.  Danger in a Red Dress was a disappointing coda to an otherwise good contemporary romance series.  And where the heck was the danger in a red dress?

My Grade: D+ to C-
Who would enjoy this book:
Fans of Christina Dodd’s contemporary romances, Heather Graham, or Nora Roberts.

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