The Wrong Wife
by Carolyn McSparren
(Harl. Super. #921, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-70921-8
The Wrong Wife is a book about old money, old scandal and a new chance at love, just as the cover says. However, the “old scandal” quickly becomes the focus of the book, while the love story between the two main characters is unconvincing.

Ben Jackson is an ambitious assistant district attorney with an eye on the district attorney’s office. Phil Mainwaring, Ben’s mentor and his mother’s suitor, is up for a judgeship, which would leave the DA position open for the right candidate. However, as with any political office, Ben needs to prove himself to the powers that be. This includes having the right connections, no skeletons in the closet, and definitely finding the right woman to be his wife.

Annabelle Langley doesn’t fit this description and she knows it. Regardless, Ben falls in love with her at first sight, but he has demons from his past. His high school sweetheart was raped and murdered by a man suspected of committing other crimes, but Ben’s father had successfully defended this man in court. Ben believes he’ll never love another woman the way he loved that “woman” and, in turn, blames his father for defending the man responsible for that murder.

Annabelle was recently hired by Ben’s mother to work as a seamstress in her lace and clothing business. Ben recognizes Annabelle from the scandal that rocked Annabelle’s childhood and her family, as well as affecting his own family years before. When Annabelle was four years old, her mother was found murdered. Annabelle’s father, Ray, later admitted to the murder, against the advice of his defense lawyer, Ben’s father, and went to prison.

Upon his release from prison and subsequent parole years later, Ray disappeared, leaving Annabelle to be raised by Mrs. Langley, Ray’s mother. Mrs. Langley is a bitter, old woman who takes pleasure in making other people’s lives miserable, especially Annabelle’s. She frequently tells Annabelle that Ray went to prison to protect Annabelle, the real murderer. Annabelle has difficulty discounting Mrs. Langley’s accusations, especially when she starts having flashbacks that involve lots of blood.

Annabelle attempts to hold her life together while caring for an ailing Mrs. Langley, who rants at her for her supposed immoral behavior, working for the ex-wife of the lawyer that allowed Ray to go to prison, fending off Ben’s ardent advances and his prying into her past, as well as trying to explain those flashbacks.

Annabelle seems like a virtual superwoman and, in her own way, she is. However, the combination of all of these problems also makes her situation unbelievable. She could have resolved some of these issues by learning to stand up for herself.

The relationship between Annabelle and Ben felt awkward. It didn’t seem characteristic of Ben to jump from relationship to relationship, while avoiding commitment with other women, and then freely admit to Annabelle within two days of meeting her that he wants them to eventually get married. Especially when he is supposedly concerned about his public image. It seemed the conflict of how this relationship would affect his image as DA lasted a whole two seconds before he decided that holding a public office shouldn’t dictate whom he chose to see romantically. Every aspect of their relationship is rushed.

The fast development of their relationship is also uncharacteristic for a man who declares that his high school sweetheart was the only woman he could ever love. I generally prefer the hero and heroine to have some sort of connection or basis for a relationship prior to declaring their love and intentions of marrying. Granted, Ben was the only one declaring his undying love from the beginning, but why would Annabelle allow a physical relationship to progress if she had no intention of being with Ben in the long run? Especially since she was a virgin?

This book may be appealing to those readers who enjoy more mystery and intrigue than romance. The whole whodunit aspect of the story is compelling…until about the last quarter of the book. Then the list of suspects narrows after a plot twist that was meant to add more suspense. Unfortunately, I correctly guessed the culprit’s identity, which lessened the mystery aspect considerably.

If the reader can ignore the improbability of Ben and Annabelle’s relationship, and the short length of time in which these two characters get together, this book could be an interesting story. Unfortunately, their relationship is too bogged down with her problems and his eagerness to overlook them. The Wrong Wife is somewhat entertaining while the reader is attempting to solve the mystery, but the romantic aspect is a disappointment.

--Kristy Hales

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