The Husband Dilemma
by Elizabeth Duke
(Harl. Romance, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-17417-9
The title of Elizabeth Duke's book is a misnomer. From the beginning, it is apparent there isn't a husband dilemma, merely a bride dilemma.

The novel begins three weeks before Dr. Catherine Warren-Smith's wedding. As she's being fitted for her wedding gown, she pauses to think about her intended, Brendan.

"He might not be the most exciting man in the world, the most passionate man in the world. He might not have stunning good looks or a tanned athlete's physique. He might now send her blood roaring through her veins the way . . . "

The problem is, Kate can't stop thinking about Jack Savage.

Kate and Jack met several years earlier. She was drowning and he saved her life. She became his "golden mermaid." They were swept up a whirlwind romance until she found out he was actually Dr. Jonathan Savage, her older sister's former lover.

Kate's sister Charlotte was a promising young cardiologist who followed in the footsteps of their father. The elder Dr. Warren-Smith was known throughout Australia. When Charlotte Warren-Smith took her own life, she left a cryptic suicide note: "Johnnie, forgive me." The Warren-Smith clan interpreted it to mean Jonathan Savage was responsible for Charlotte's death. He became the family scourge.

Charlotte Warren-Smith didn't have a firm grasp on life and she wasn't very good with names, either. Despite her sister's objections, Charlotte called her "Cathy." And although Jack hated to be called, "Johnnie," Charlotte persisted. So, when Kate and Jack met several years after Charlotte's suicide, they were unaware that they were actually Cathy and Johnnie. Get it?

As Kate is preparing to get married, guess who's back in town and taken a neurosurgery post in the same hospital where she's on staff? The sparks are still there, but remember he's the enemy. Kate's dilemma grows along with each encounter with Jack.

The Husband Dilemma is a love-your-enemy, big misunderstanding and second chance story all rolled into one. Maybe that's the problem. Perhaps The Husband Dilemma tried to be too much.

Kate is an extremely wishy-washy heroine. I kept wondering how she got through medical school. For his part, Jack is so noble, patient and considerate, I kept wondering why he still wanted Kate after all these years.

The secondary characters don't offer a lot of support. Kate's long-suffering mother is a general practitioner. Kate followed in her mother's professional footsteps. Her father is a self-important man who emotionally neglects his family. Charlotte, whom he created in his own image, was his favorite. The Warren-Smiths are inbred. There's probably nothing wrong with the family that marriage to a non-physician wouldn't cure.

Then, there's Charlotte's note: "Johnnie, forgive me." Not since Citizen Kane's enigmatic, "Rosebud," has a phrase provided so little payoff.

There is an understandable secondary romance in which the characters leave Australia together . . . probably to avoid "the husband dilemma."

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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