Scars by Eliza Bates
The Three-Sentence Description: Guilt-ridden and traumatized from causing the drunk-driving accident that killed her brother, Annabelle is barely scraping by. Committed to paying her parents back for medical expenses for her own treatment, she’s abandoned pursuit of her Masters to work a low-paying catering job. Enter Luke Klein: strung out on drugs and fallen from grace in the wake of a heinous scandal, he is Klein Enterprises ’s prodigal son. At an upscale wedding where Annabelle is tending bar, the inebriated Luke writes her a check for $10,000 on the spot, then offers her a small fortune to quit her job and keep playing along.
The Extended Plot: Annabelle knows nothing about working in public relations. Luke may not remember any of this in the morning. But if he does follow through, it will mean more money than someone with her criminal record could have hoped for—a chance Annabelle is willing to take.
Luke does remember, though he quickly hands Annabelle off to other company bosses who will help her carry on the ruse. As far as Luke is concerned, she is a pawn strategically placed to help him earn his micromanaging approval. If she appears to be successful at her job, Luke is hoping the elder Mr. Klein will let loose the reins. But as she learns the business of PR, she also learns more about the Kleins and becomes obsessed with reconciling the Luke she’s coming to know with the accusations that lie at the heart of his scandal. Playing her part perfectly for Luke’s benefit, behind the scenes, she is a double-agent set on figuring out, and possibly exposing, Luke’s alleged crimes.
Genre: Fiction with Romantic Themes
Primary Tropes: Redemption, Forbidden Love, Pain/Hurt
Secondary Tropes: Family Drama, Millionaire/Billionaire, Friends with Benefits
What Makes It Stand Out: This is Eliza Bates’ debut novel, but this ain’t her first rodeo. With “Scars”, you are in the presence of a writer with skill. She has ghostwritten for other authors, and her mastery of fiction shows in the fact that she pulls off a deliciously complex plot. There’s a lot going on, on a lot of levels—a lot of plot, a lot of the main characters’ inner worlds, and a lot of supporting characters (at least twenty). Yet, it never feels weighed down and we get scene after vivid scene of interactions that must happen in order for it to resolve.
What You’ll Love About It: You know I hate predictable, and Eliza Bates serves up a cast characters who never do what you would expect. Annabelle is scarred, but not broken. Recovering, but not weak. Skeptical, but circumspect and open to the truth. Luke, on the other hand, is an addict, but not a junkie. He can be a jerk, but plays this part of himself in the most human of ways. Banks somehow shows us her characters’ baser natures without robbing them of their smarts, which gives all of them rich dimension. A strong supporting cast of characters rounds this story out—an interloping journalist, Annabelle’s friend-with-benefits, her work colleague who ends up being a fellow sleuth, and Luke’s controlling girlfriend, Britt. Even bit characters have color and depth, from Luke’s housekeeper and driver, to some of the moguls the Kleins hobnob with. And even when you think you know where things are going, you’ll be shocked by how it all ends.
Truisms, Complexities, and Other Themes: In many ways, this is a story of people who play the hand they were dealt, making the best they can out of circumstances they can’t control. With every character who orbits the people in their lives, we see unwavering acceptance of who their counterparts really are. Luke can’t change his overbearing father. Annabelle can’t change the severed relationship with her parents or wash her brother’s blood from her hands. Britt can’t change that Luke will never love her, and accepts an open relationship instead. Jared (Luke’s right-hand man) can’t change Luke’s rash behavior from his addiction, but remains loyal even though that means cleaning up after him. This is what real people do—all of us are surrounded by people with flaws, yet all of us have our reasons for sticking around and we all find ways to endure.
The Standout Side Character: I loved the friends-with-benefits relationship between Annabelle and Steven, which confirms what many of us already know: that men and women can have fluid relationships that sometimes involve sex and sometimes don’t. Steven doesn’t know everything about Annabelle’s past, but he doesn’t need to in order to be the person who somehow becomes most central to her life. They have a few hairy moments, but they manage to overcome them, and all the while, their bond remains unbroken.
Our Prediction: I love the fact that this ghostwriter has moved on to original fiction and will gladly read anything else she writes!