cover image False Pretenses

False Pretenses

Catherine Coulter. Dutton Books, $19.95 (380pp) ISBN 978-0-453-00641-5

Neither Lincoln Center nor Wall Street comes across with credibility in this first hardcover novel by the author of 18 Regency and historical romances. Set against the glittering Manhattan world of corporate finance and performing arts is a shifting population of heroes and villains, white knights and charlatans. Barely acquitted of her elderly husband's ice-pick murder, pianist Elizabeth Carleton struggles to rule his financial empire, developing unusual alliances while learning firsthand about hostile takeovers. Although confronted by vicious in-laws rivaling the Borgias in their skill for blackmail and betrayal, Elizabeth thrives surrounded by attentive and attractive men. A trusted bodyguard guides her through the intricacies of acquisition politics, an acquaintance made during a European junket becomes her confidant and she is later squired by a mysterious and wealthy psychiatrist who perjured himself to assure her acquittal. Elizabeth's trials pose as a romantic mystery thriller but the book suffers from stilted dialogue and equally awkward descriptions of violent confrontations and sexual couplings. Non sequiturs concerning affirmative action and safe sex merely accessorize the dated formula, reminiscent of a TV saga. ( October)