The Charmers – by Elizabeth Adler (St. Martin's Press, 2016)
The Charmers, Elizabeth Adler's latest novel, is not exactly what I would classify as “charming,” but it is a tongue in cheek, throw-back to the glitzy days of the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his shining Zelda. With two dimensional characters (think the game of Clue), there's not a lot of substance or even mystery to The Charmers, but that obviously was not Adler's intent. If you want depth and character development, go back to Adler's tour d' force, Fortune is a Woman,published in 1992. Fortune is a Woman offered one of the greatest surprise endings of any book I've ever read, and it still twinkles in a place of honor on my book shelf.
Not every book has to be intellectually stimulating for us to get lost in, which is where The Charmers comes in. The plot is fairly simple. Mirabella Matthews, a famous mystery novelist, has inherited a home in the South of France from her Aunt Jolly, who has been found dead, with a knife in her back. On her way from her native Scotland to begin living in a sleepy French hamlet, Mirabella has a strange encounter on a train with a distracted looking, young blonde, who is sizing up Mirabella in the same way that the author is assessing her.
Verity, the young blonde, comments, “I'm on the same Paris-to Nice train, looking at my opposite neighbor. She is wearing a brown jumper, a too-long and very crumpled linen skirt, sensible back shoes with a cross strap, and little white lace gloves. No, not lace, they are crochet, ending just above the wrist bone in a tiny ruffle.” (p.19) It doesn't take long for Mirabella to make an unusual offer to Verity, who is on the run from an unfortunate, albeit very brief marriage, to come and stay a while with her at Villa Romantica. Verity quickly learns that the lace gloves are a permanent fixture on the hands of the generous author who so willingly befriends her, hiding a part of the secret of Mirabella's life.
On Mirabella and Verity's route to the Villa, Mirabella's car is run off the very road in Monaco where Princess Grace met her fate. The heiress is unaware that a dastardly villain is plotting, not only to steal her land, but her life as well. The Boss, a mysterious and very wealthy man, built like a mountain, lives in luxury in a neighboring villa, and has designs on using the land on which Villa Romantica is perched to build a huge and profitable hotel. To help him reach his goal, the Boss hires The Russian, a professional (but very bumbling) killer to rid himself of Mirabella, just as he had rid himself of the elderly, but very brave Aunt Jolly.
If you like romance, and with a Villa named Romantica as a centerpiece in this piece, there is bound to be romance, there is the dashing Dr. Chad Prescott, another neighbor, whose specialty is facial reconstruction, especially those faces of children with serious deformities. Oddly, he claims to be the beneficiary of Villa Romantica in an updated version of Aunt Jolly's will, and announces to Mirabella that he will fight her for the title to her land. Since there are obviously romantic sparks between the Doctor and the Writer, the fight for the Villa becomes an interesting tug of war.
Add another Cluish character for fun, the Colonel. “The stocky, bearded, uniformed gendarme with the piercing eyes that I'd met after the accident . . . the one who had questioned me, made notice abot the small green car . . . had not yet come up with the answers,” Mirabella states when the Colonel makes his first visit to her villa. (p.86) The Colonel, of course, will provide an alternative source of romantic hero for the two female leads, and he plays his part well.
This unwitting cast of characters, Colonel, the Doctor, the Boss, and the Russian, the Writer, and the Debutante add up to a cast of characters that lead the reader to chuckle as the book dashes to the finish. There is not much to read into in The Charmers, but if you are looking for a little escape hatch from the rigors of your work week, grab a ticket for the South of France. The book has a little history, a little intrigue, but is a lot of fun.