Familiar and predictable are the two main words that come to mind when thinking about The Stranger She Married. Although enjoyable, it could have been so much more.
Rachel Shane lives on a horse-breeding farm in small Kane’s Crossing, Kentucky. She and her little daughter Tamela are struggling to maintain the ranch and keep it from her partner’s hands. Unfortunately for them, they have little money and all their hopes pinned on a new foal from one of their premier mares. Their money disappeared two years ago when Rachel’s husband, Matthew also disappeared. Their entire $200,000 savings went with him.
One day, a stranger comes to the farm, offering to work. He looks like Rachel’s husband, yet acts very differently. Matt “Jones” is here to follow up on a lead that someone is looking for him. See Matt has amnesia. All he remembers is waking up in an alley in New Orleans, with a bum going through his pockets. He had a nasty knife wound in his abdomen and blood (apparently not his) on his hands. For two years, he has wandered, finally ending up in Texas on a ranch. The P.I. that Rachel had sent out looking for him had caught up to him a few months ago. He has returned to find out what he can and hopefully regain his memory.
Rachel doesn’t know whether to believe this story or not. The man is definitely her husband Matthew, but not the Matthew she knew. In the many years of their marriage, she and Matthew had grown apart. Although a loving father, following the birth of Tamela, Matthew had withdrawn from her, spending late hours in town and becoming involved in the other part of the family business. He liked to drink, was fastidious about his clothing and liked to hobnob with the rich horse-breeding set. He and Rachel had grown apart, and he had hurt Rachel badly.
This man “Matt” is nothing like the old Matthew. He likes to wear jeans and t-shirts. He loves spending time with Tamela, who readily accepts him as her daddy. The attraction from their early happy years seems to be prevalent. Both Matt and Rachel logically understand they should not get involved sexually, but their libidos do not agree. Can they regain the great relationship they once had? Should Rachel trust this new Matt? Can she bear getting hurt if his memory returns and reverts to his old habits?
Matt struggles with flashbacks of the blood on his hand, a woman in shadows wearing a blue nightie and a blonde woman with a cute little girl, neither of whom are the two females in his life now. Can he trust that he wasn’t a snake like Rachel implies he was? Did he hurt someone the night he lost his memory?
The story moves quickly, but never really develops the mystery or the suspense. The nasty partner is hinted at, but his story and threat to the ranch never really materializes. Matt refers to himself in the now as “Matt” and in the before life as “Matthew”, lending itself to a sense of strangeness.
The complications are unsurprising and common in stories. For instance, once Matt and Rachel succumb to their passion, Rachel ends up pregnant. Been there, done that.
Rachel is alternately angry, showing strength of character and then wimpy and unable to imagine how she can survive without Matt again. It was difficult to get into her psyche and feel that getting Matt back was what she deserved and needed. Although it is alluded to that she kept the ranch going, she is never shown doing anything except despairing over the shape of the accounts.
Matt is often an unsympathetic hero, as he is convinced himself that he was a snake in his “previous life”. Yet, he is a nice guy and his natural attitude of caring and willingness to give Rachel time is endearing.
All of this, as well as the quick and easy resolution to the story, give the reader the feeling of a somewhat uneven read. Ultimately, The Stranger She Married is only a moderately enjoyable tale.