Fresh Meat: The Black Widow by Wendy Corsi Staub

The Black Widow by Wendy Corsi Staub is a thriller featuring two women who embark into the world of online dating in completely different fashions (available February 24, 2015).

In The Black Widow, Wendy Corsi Staub delves into the world of dating 21st-century style. We’ve gone from Looking for Mr. Goodbar to You’ve Got Mail. This means a group of thirty-somethings are putting their best foot forward, and often a picture of their younger selves, in a profile to garner a poke, or a hello, and maybe a first date with online dating.

I’ve been married a long time, so thinking about getting back into dating certainly gives me the heebie jeebies. I remember reading Mary Higgins Clark’s Loves Music, Loves to Dance and being convinced immediately it would not work for me. This book has a similar but darker story about computer dating.

That said, I have to confess that my strong, independent daughter has many friends and her current fellow from using an online dating service.

Everybody knows about the black widow. The lovely ebony insect is beautiful in her own way. She enjoys a rousing session of sex and then kills and devours her mate. Personally, I prefer a good cuddle myself. Now you know there’s a character in Staub’s lively story that mates and that there may not be a happily-ever-after ending.

SEE ALSO: The Truth Behind Stacy Castor: America's Black Widow!

Gabriel Duran is divorced and mostly unhappy. Following the death of their infant son, she and husband went through a painful divorce. Her cousin, Jaz, is determined that Gaby get back into the world at large and become an active participant in her own love life. Jaz helps Gaby build a profile on InTune, an online dating website, and get ready to start going out again.

Leave me alone, Gaby wanted to say.

But of course that’s not what she really wants. Alone has come to mean lonely…

And so, sitting here on a cloudy Tuesday morning, sipping watery coffee from a paper cup, Gaby signs into the dating Web site and finds that her profile has gone live. As Jaz predicted, a number of guys have reached out, interested in connecting. Like her own page, theirs only show first names.

Gaby skims through the messages, ruling them out one by one.

Jack: too pushy…

Greg: too boring…

Eli: too creepy…

And then…

All too familiar.

I guess we could say men and women have struggled to form happy relationships since Adam and Eve met in the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, we know that didn’t turn out too well for them. For many years, I worked for a magazine geared towards single adults. We had weekend conferences and workshops every year to provide safe places for gatherings and events. I have to admit, however, there was certain type of single that always showed up and felt alone in spite of the large crowds.

When you add grief over the loss of a child to those feelings, it makes for good reading. Staub gives us a glimpse of what goes on inside Gaby while she’s trying to navigate that maze that is dating again.

On the other side of the coin is Alex, who is also looking for her Mr. Right, but with a special purpose in mind. Unfortunately, she likes to try samples and toss them out if they’re no good. She carefully studies the profiles of the men she picks and ticks off her own list of requirements before meeting them.

This creates a tense situation that is at times difficult to read, but you literally can’t wait to see what happens next. Like Gaby, Alex has a sad backstory, too. She was once married and happy with her husband and son, but all that changed.

Now she needs the something special that comes with having a relationship back in her life.

Uncomfortable, he points to his watch, a convincing Gucci knockoff. “We might as well go straight to the table.” …

“I got you a Bourbon and water.”

That stops him in his tracks. She bought him a drink?

She reaches for a glass filled with brownish-gold liquid and slides it along the high-top table toward him. “It’s Maker’s Mark—you said you like it, right?”

Pleasantly surprised, he nods. He probably did say that. He said a lot of things in the private messages they’ve been sending back and forth for a few weeks now, ever since she first reached out to him. It’s nice to know she was paying such close attention.

“Thank you. What are you drinking?” he asks her, and feels obliged to add, “Can I get you a refill?”

“Vodka tonic. And no, thank you, this is my second.”

Staub does a superb job of using the contrast in these two women to build the suspense in this book. They are essentially doing the same thing, but with polar-opposite goals in mind. Moving through this world of meet-and-greet with the light of Gaby and the dark of Alex provides insight to both sides of the coin.

Even though we know who the killer is early on in the book, the unraveling of the story that led her to this point builds sympathy and creates disdain at the same time. I don’t always like this type of story, but, as I said, the way Staub uses the contrast between the two women makes it more interesting. I do think the story sags a little in the middle, and Staub tends to drag out the introspective scenes. However, that detracts only marginally from the point of the story. Reading The Black Widow may even make you look differently at the beautiful little insect.

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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who writes fiction with her writing partner, Jan Powell as Neely Powell. They are authors of the popular True Nature from The Wild Rose Press and “The Witches of New Mourne” trilogy. Leigh also writes for the popular blog, WomenofMystery.net.

Read all of Leigh Neely's posts for Criminal Element.

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