Lead Me On
On the surface, Jane Morgan is stoic, prim, and proper – the perfect efficient office manager. But few people in Aspen, Colorado would guess that her façade is a desperate attempt to divorce herself from her shameful background and family. For ten years she has been a good girl, dating only white-collar men and reading high-falutin’ book club selections. But her life changes just before her twenty-ninth birthday when she meets William Chase.
Chase is six foot three and he has tattoos, a buzz cut, and steel-toed boots. And, since he blows things up for a living, an Ivy league-educated veterinarian he is not. Yet he pushes all the buttons Jane thought long dead, and she decides to treat herself for her birthday and have him and her cake too. For his part, Chase is hugely attracted to this buttoned-down woman, and detects there is much, much more to her than meets the eye. When Jane’s brother is arrested on suspicion of murder Chase offers his help, and subsequent events prompt her to confront her prejudices and her past.
If you’ve been bemoaning the paucity of complex, interesting, and flawed heroines, then let me introduce you to Jane Morgan. I guarantee her past will make some readers uncomfortable (it did me), but Jane shows amazing depths that garner nothing but my respect. Ms. Dahl shines a clear, almost brutal spotlight on Jane, revealing her flaws and intricacies to the core, and, while the author doesn’t spare her heroine, she is also forgiving. Jane is as honest, as three-dimensional, as true a character as I’ve ever seen. But if you’ve detected a certain detachment on my part, it’s because I find it difficult to relate to her, so my admiration and respect come from a certain distance. I also think there’s a certain reverse snobbery to some of her social judgments – prejudice is prejudice, whether you prefer blue or white-collar men.
Chase, the blue-collar man in question, is a fine hero with issues of his own to work through, although he’s more comfortable in his skin than Jane is. But I couldn’t divorce the feeling of inequality between the two. Chase is as much therapist as he is comfort food, friend, and blow-up doll, and the book is all about Jane’s problems, Jane’s prejudices, Jane’s insecurities. She has some major psychological stuff to get through, and Chase isn’t kidding when he tells her that she is seriously fucked up. I’m pretty sure their relationship will even out, but the journey towards the happy ending is too unequal for my preference.
The relationship imbalance, coupled with a difficulty to relate to the heroine, meant I didn’t enjoy the book as much as others will. But there is so much to admire that, despite my grievances, I have to recommend it. Lead Me On may be a DIK for some readers and in a genre littered with hyperbole and contrivances, it is thought-provoking, rich, and honest.