Glass Houses, by Anne Stuart

21 Mar

Glass Houses, by Anne Stuart

This is a very old category romance published by Harlequin as part of its Men at Work line back in 1989. It is also my first (to my recollection) Anne Stuart.

Isn’t it amazing how good writing can come through even as annoying conventions make one want to tear one’s hair out? For example, please take a look at the back cover blurb:

Who is that sexy guy?

Name: Michael Dubrovnik

Experience: Millionaire and corporate raider. He has many hidden talents…seduction is just one of them.

Objective: To acquire Glass House and its prime Manhattan location.

Until he met owner Laura de Kelsey Winston, Michael had never lost a negotiation. But the savvy businesswoman matched him move by move, kiss for kiss. And suddenly Michael was in danger of losing a far more precious commodity… his heart.

Boardroom Boys Serious in the boardroom-sizzling in the bedroom!

Basically, Michael is a self made man who is after his next big coup: the construction of an impressive complex à la Trump in the middle of Manhattan. To this end, he’s spent a couple of years quietly buying the properties where his masterpiece will go up. All is going swimmingly except for the little fly in Michael’s ointment: socialite, rich debutante and seemingly all around superfluous Laura Winston refuses to sell The Glass House-which sits right in the middle of the projected construction. (Those of you who are having flashbacks to Batteries Not Included are not alone, by the way) What we have, then, is basically a rather farfetched external conflict designed to throw these two characters together.

While the main characters are competently written, I liked the secondary characters much more. Susan, Laura’s assistant and friend is just wonderful. Sensible, self-aware, not given to self-pity. Frank, Susan’s love interest shows a rather surprising depth of character considering that he’s a model and, at first, seems to be the perfect tired stereotype of the breed: shallow, selfish. I do wish he had a bit more page time, frankly.

In fact, here’s one of my favorite exchanges between Susan and Laura, talking about Frank, and Susan’s decision to stop hoping for a relationship with him:

Susan shook her head. “You never liked Frank much, did you?”

“That’s where you are wrong. I liked him very much. I just didn’t like what he was doing to you.”

“And that’s where you made your mistake. He wasn’t doing anything to me. I was doing it to myself. He didn’t need me to make chicken soup for him. There were half a dozen women willing to do the same. Women just want to do things for Frank.”

Back to Laura and Michael, it’s not that they are not well written. There are in fact several really well done scenes between them, but I am torn because I just can’t accept the premise of the novel. Or rather, I cannot suspend my disbelief long enough to accept these two characters’ motivations.

If Laura is such an intelligent person, and a good businesswoman, how does that allow for her obsession with The Glass House? We are told she’s in deep financial trouble, that she cannot even afford routine maintenance on the building-which not only makes it rather stupid to refuse repeated and increasingly higher offers for it, but also endangers all its tenants.

As for Michael, wouldn’t there be plenty of less expensive, and much more time efficient, ways of forcing her to sale? Legal ways, even? Barely five chapters in, he states that the building is unsafe-and he’s in fact having nearby properties razed and blasted so that the vibration and explosions damage it to make his point to Laura. Why didn’t he get it condemned by the city? He wouldn’t even need to have to pull too many strings.

Getting over my issues over the reasons for the conflict between the protagonists, there are several very well written passages involving them together, or either one with a secondary character, which provided either some comic relief (such as Laura taking tea with Michael’s eldest sister) or some suspense, as does a short lived subplot involving blackmail.

What I liked most about this last bit is that is resolved in a very unexpected and rather brilliant manner. Further, the pace of the story picks up in the last third of the novel, with more dialogue and more action. I had, I confess a bit of trouble with how the conflict between Michael and Laura is solved, but it goes back to my inability to suspend my disbelief enough to buy the premise.

And yet, I liked the novel; mostly, I liked Ms Stuart’s voice. Glass Houses won’t be the last of her books I read, I can assure you that.

7 out of 10

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