ACT OF PASSION, by Harrison Arnston, Harper Paperbacks, $4.95. Poor Ann Cohen! She wakes up at four in the morning with not only the hangover from hell but with two Pinellas County police officers banging on her door, accusing her of the shooting deaths of her husband and the woman he was having a rather bizarre sexual relationship with.
When you get to know more about Marty, her late husband, you have to wonder why beautiful, faithful, hard-working Ann didn't plug the rat ages ago _ or at least divorce him and succumb to the charms of handsome, wealthy, successful attorney Bill Connally. Bill wanted very much to become her lover but now has settled for being her knight in shining armor. Putting his lucrative practice aside, he devotes himself to her defense.
Ann, as the book tells us in flashbacks, was a nice, Italian girl from Chicago who'd held onto her virginity until she was 25. At 29, she met the divorced-with-children Marty and despite her family's uneasiness over the fact that his hefty alimony payments will preclude Ann ever having a family of her own (Jewish Marty promises to raise his kids Catholic), she marries him.
Shortly after they wed and move to Minneapolis, Marty convinces Ann that he should switch careers _ from accounting to developing adult care facilities in Florida. Not only is he confident that's where the big money is, he rhapsodizes, "Florida is a paradise. Warm all year _ hell, we could play tennis twelve months straight. Wouldn't you like to get out of the damn snow and cold?" Ann isn't totally sold but, dutiful wife that she is, tags along to Pinellas County where they move into a "villa" in a "cluster" of a development less than three miles from the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent to one of Florida's premier golf and tennis resorts. As Marty described, it's "paradise." Besides, Ann figures if her husband makes more money, they can finally start that family she has longed for.
Just when Ann starts to enjoy her new job, the climate, the scenery and her new friends, her marriage starts to curdle and she begins to realize that most of it was built on half truths and out-and-out lies. For openers, Marty had had a vasectomy. He's a chronic philanderer whose sexual preferences run to being mercilessly abused. To add insult to injury, he's also been fooling around with the family finances so that if Ann bolted, she would even be out of the money she'd earned. Not knowing when to cut her losses, she hangs in, hoping Marty will go back to being the sweet guy she fell in love with.
That was her first mistake. Her second was leaving every tangible bit of evidence the sheriff's office can think of to link her to the murders. While attorney Connally might convince a jury she was drunk and demented by jealousy to get her off, he decides to prove Ann is innocent _ something she's not even sure of. His theory is she was framed and with the help of her attorney father and brother to sustain her, Ann goes through the trial of her life. But does Connally pull it off and retire into endless green flashes of sunset with her? Don't be too sure because right toward the end author and Floridian Harrison Arnston pulls his surprise packages and ties them up with the niggling clues and inferences he's woven through Ann's story.
Although it's tough not wanting to slap some sense into Arnston's heroine as she gallantly withstands the ordeals he puts her through, he's concocted a pretty nifty cliffhanger that's a natural made-for-mini-series if ever there was one.
Kiki Olson's mysteries column appears here monthly.