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A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick

2010/07/20

A wealthy, lonely man in 1907 Wisconsin places a newspaper ad for a mail-order bride, and receives in response a photograph of a plain young woman and a letter which begins, “I am a simple, honest woman.” Sounds like the latest offering in paperback western romances? Not exactly.

From the very first chapter we are intrigued by the characters, Ralph Truitt and Catherine Land, each of whom is not exactly who they claim to be. Ralph is a lonely and wealthy man who is haunted by his desire and his past offenses. Catherine is a lovely but scheming woman who has a plan that is suddenly disrupted when she meets the man she has traveled to marry. She believes that she can become what he needs, what he wants and longs for, but time passes and her deceit weighs more and more heavily on her. Meanwhile, Truitt is as obsessed with his new wife as he is with the idea of hunting down and reuniting with his estranged son. He sends Catherine to St. Louis to parley with his son, and from there the story spirals into a web of confusion and complexity. Flashbacks of each person’s life provide insights to what is about to happen, what is happening, and eventually, what does happen.

This is a dark novel, tackling head-on the power of deceit and obsession, and, oddly enough, the power of forgiveness and love. It sounds cheesy, but Goolrick manages to take an unsettling pair of protagonists, blackmail, spying, murder plots, and poison, and twists them into a haunting and satisfying conclusion. The writing is powerful and may make the reader a bit uneasy, but that is the beauty of it. I have labeled it as a gothic romance, but it is far more than just that. Recommended especially for fans of du Maurier.

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