REVIEW: That Man Must Marry by Janet Chapman
Dear Ms. Chapman:
Maybe in my salad days a story about an innocent, vulnerable, walking mess of a woman, and all the men that love her (only bad guys want to harm her) might have appealed to me. However, now that I am a hardened cynic, I can only respond with eye rolls, groans and sighs, along with a few WTFs.
“That Man Must Marry” started out inauspiciously with a contrived and likely illegal conditional will bequest. “Either get married to one of three people and have child within a certain amount of time or my entire estate is given over to the man I hated most when I was alive”. Willa, the heroine, protests this and instead of giving actual sound advice, the lawyer in the book says “Oh no, this will stand up to a challenge.” Um, no and no. Conditional will plots seem a very lazy way to go about setting up conflict and tension particularly when they are accompanied by bad lawyering. As someone I know once said, there is a resource out there called “Wills for Dummies.” (This is a WTF moment, if you are keeping score).
Willa is one of those “precious” heroines. She’s not traditionally pretty. She’s not thin (she thinks of herself as fat but the hero thinks she just curvaceous). She’s not very feminine. Isn’t very well put together. At one point, her packing is so haphazard that the hero, Sam, takes off his belt and wraps it around the suitcase. (Sam must be super big around the waist or Willa’s suitcase must be childsized. It was an overnight bag/suitcase. Who knows). This is Sam’s first glimpse of Willa:
Though she couldn’t be a day older than thirty, the shapeless brown suit she was wearing was more appropriate for someone twice her age. Half of her blouse hung out below the jacket. Both of her stockings had runs, the overnight bag at her feet the likely culprit. The woman truly resembled a partridge, her plain brown feathers rumpled and sadly outdated.
Despite, or maybe because of, her brown wren looks, Sam is immediately entranced. Who wouldn’t be? She is beloved by a rich old man, Bram, who sends her down to his billion dollar industry to pick out his successor from one of his three grandsons and the three grandsons proceed to fall in love with her (this is not an erotic romance so it’s all brotherly love except from Sam. That’s the eros love). Only Bram dies and the conditional will bequest plot line takes over. Willa has to marry one of the brothers and have a baby but Willa doesn’t want to have a baby because she believes that she is too clumsy to have one and that her clumsiness will bring about harm to the child.
Willa is such a good girl that she says things like
“Holy smokes! She couldn’t take much more of this roller coaster. Since she’d arrived in New York, she’d laughed and cried and given Sam an obscene gesture. Her mother in heaven must be hiding in shame. “
The three grandsons, Sam, Ben, and Jesse, are all handsome and kind. All of them want to be CEO of the multi billion dollar business but according to them “Willamina, you should understand something,” Ben said. “It doesn’t matter to any of us which one becomes CEO. We’re not in competition. Any one of us can lead, and the others will follow. No hard feelings, no jealousy.” So, if they don’t care about being the CEO and Willa doesn’t want to get married and have kids, why doesn’t she just walk away?
It’s like Disney, without the villains. Actually, I read these books about Happy the Horse to my daughter and in each book there is conflict, but the conflict ends up not being negative. I.e., when Happy first arrives at the new horse farm, a horse gives him bad advice, but in the end Happy knows that it is not because the horse meant to give bad advice, but that the horse’s advice just didn’t work for Happy. This book is on the same level. While I am not for making any one out to be a skeevy villain, I think I could handle some nuanced characters here who might have feelings that are genuine instead of contrivedly Happy and Good and Pure all the time. Even Snow White had disgruntled dwarves.
There are actually villains. First, there are the stick skinny “dates” that Ben and Jesse take out to dinner who don’t eat anything and talk about nonsense. Then there is Willa’s evil brother in law who tries to manhandle her which gives the brothers the opportunity to show off their manliness to her.
It seemed littered with ridiculous scenes like the post burial one where all four of them end upon in Abram’s bed:
She was falling in love with the Sinclairs, every damn last one of them.
Finally finding the courage to open her eyes, Willa lifted her head to see Jesse on the far side of the bed, his mouth open and one arm thrown over his eyes. Ben was snoring beside him.
Which meant it was Sam’s chest she was snuggled against.
Figures. He volunteered to be the one to marry me. That’s what they’d told her last night. For the good of Tidewater, Sam Sinclair would sacrifice himself to a dead man. He was even up to the task of getting her pregnant, too.
For a minute there . . . no, it’s clearly not one of those books. But three men and one chick? That must be one king sized bed.
Willa reminded me of those Garwood and Quick heroines of the past, but I just don’t think the bumbling, charming, naive innocence translates well into contemporaries. Further Willa isn’t shown as being capable of really anything and everyone treats her like a child making me wonder if she really was. Coupled with the fact that the hero is such a bland guy makes this book a drag. I longed for some genuine believable emotion.
A silly suspense plot is thrown in to heighten up the conflict since there is little internal conflict between the hero and heroine. It’s an agnst free sugar ride that can be appealing if you don’t mind the over the top ridiculousness of intermittent scenes. C-