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by Linda Francis Lee

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-312-35495-9
Publisher: St. Martin's

Southern belle wronged by duplicitous husband seeks revenge.

Speak softly and carry a large diamond seems to be the motto of narrator Fredericka Mercedes Hildebrand Ware. Known as Frede (pronounced Freddy) to her fellow Junior Leaguers, this lady-of-leisure’s special gift is her ability to put together a stunning ensemble for any event. A bigger challenge than matching shoes to handbags, though, is tossed Frede’s way when her husband steals her money and marries another woman. Our desperate heroine seeks assistance from her loudmouthed neighbor, an ill-bred but tenacious lawyer who’s willing to take the case for free. Of course, there’s a catch. In return for his help, Frede must secure a spot in the local Junior League for the lawyer’s tacky wife, Nikki, who turns out to be an old school chum. Back in high school, Frede had ditched Nikki because she wore the wrong clothes and came from a poor family. Now it’s the Junior Leaguer’s turn to feel what it’s like to be ostracized and penniless. Primary among the story’s many problems is Frede’s selfishness and unlikable nature, expressed in antiseptic language that leaves readers cold. Some may put the book aside before imperious Frede is given the chance to atone; the author simply waits too long to start her protagonist down the path toward redemption. Lee does provide a few intriguing ancillary characters among the wacky League ladies, but that’s about it for the plus side. The prose is stilted, and Frede’s habit of tossing in freshman-year French is annoying, though not as bad as her tiresome affectation of spelling out words Leaguers find vulgar (“m-o-n-e-y”). Numbered lists of character motivations match the plot in their obviousness. Lee, who’s churned out more than a dozen mass-market romances, seems to have run out of fresh ideas.

A barren highway with few diverting pit stops.