SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. By Judith McNaughton. Atria Books. 494 pages. $25.
It's no wonder this writer hits the charts with her novels that pair intrigue with romance, and beautiful, capable, but vulnerable women with men who are suave and strong, caring and true. These male characteristics feed the Cinderella fantasies of many a woman, even those who are entirely capable of looking after themselves.
The title says it all. The search is for husbands and lovers who, by the by, have some of the nobler characteristics of daddies who assure a girl's safety. One day, the prince will come. And when he does, he'll be quite like the good guys in this novel.
Here, fab Broadway actress Leigh Kendall, is married to Logan Manning, a man she thinks of as a “brilliant businessman,” a man who made a bundle after growing up in a fortune-depleted family. “A brilliant bore,” one of her friends calls him. Logan was also a man who made her career his priority from the time they met. How could she not love him?
Yet over the course of this tale, Leigh must face the fact that this great guy from a good but impoverished family, who seemed to have her welfare and happiness on his front burner, has a side she never knew. Don't they all?
And that other side, which put her friendships and their marriage at risk, proved dark enough to constitute grounds for murder. The police effort to make a case against her in the gunshot murder of Logan at an isolated stone cabin in the Catskills, takes up most of the ink. It is a tale of typical police obsession: They lock their radar onto one suspect at the expense of other possibilities, only to convict the wrong person or to find out in time their perceptions were faulty.
There are countless and embarrassing disclosures of Logan Manning's infidelities, and his less-than-open financial dealings. If there is any criticism to be made of McNaughton's characterizations, it is that she never gets inside this man's head to the extent she does the personalities of the main men in her story, Michael Valente, an accused Mafioso who has proven elusive to convict; and Detective Mitchell McCord, the legendary investigator sent specifically to get the goods on Michael and Leigh with the help of a three-person, hard-nosed team that includes Sam (for Samantha) Littleton.
There are also wonderful characters who are like seasoning in a stew to this plot. They include Courtney Maitland, a precocious young woman who is no stranger to the Manning apartment, and Jason Solomon, in whose play Leigh stars even as he is counting on investment in his next production from Logan..
In all, this is a delightful confection, an adult fairy tale really. The police work is systematic and realistic. The suspense holds, especially if you don't peek at the last few chapters. In fact, its construction is to be admired even if you do. The ogre types are everywhere, and they are defanged one way or another. Mitch McCord lives up to his reputation for integrity, though sometimes he must be devious to do it. The bad guys go down. And the good guys live happily ever after. As the Browning poem goes: “God's in his heaven - All's right with the world!”