Our Husband by Stephanie Bond
(St. Martin’s, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-312-97565-1
Can one write a really successful romance novel about bigamy? I admit to having my doubts. (I also admit to not yet having read Maggie Osborne’s well received historical romance with the same theme.) Please note the modifier above. I rather imagine that this story with these three wives would have made a good “woman’s fiction” story. But it doesn’t really work as a romance because those plot devices that are needed to place it in this category - a love story and a love scene - seemed extraneous to me.

The story is told in the alternating points of view of the three wives of one Raymond Carmichael, a prosthesis salesman who has used his peripatetic life to marry three very different women. We begin with Dr. Natalie Carmichael, a general practitioner in the small town of Smiley, Missouri. Raymond had swept her off her feet six years ago and she still loves her husband. But she has sensed a growing distance in him and has a niggling sense that there is some kind of trouble in their marriage. Suspicion becomes conviction when she is confronted by the owner of the local pawn shop, who demands her good jewelry in lieu of the money Raymond owes him. Then, she gets a call that her husband is in a hospital in Paducah, Kentucky with a broken arm. She rushes off to a confrontation.

Natalie gets more of a confrontation than she bargained for. She confronts not only Raymond, but two other women who both claim that her husband is their husband. That Raymond has a heart seizure seeing the three together is not surprising. That he subsequently dies of a heart attack is quite a shock. But the clincher comes when his body is autopsied by mistake and it turns out that he was murdered.

The other two wives are very different from Dr. Natalie. Beatrix, the first wed, is ten years older than her husband and he clearly married for her money and social position, a fact Beatrix has realized and which has made her miserable. Wife number three is naive but stacked Ruby, an exotic dancer in a Paducah club. To add to the witch’s brew, it turns out that Raymond “married” Ruby only six weeks earlier when he discovered she was pregnant.

Much of the story describes the varied reactions of the three wives to the discovery of Raymond’s perfidy. A good deal of the plot concerns the efforts of the police to find out who killed Raymond. First they blame Natalie; then they begin to wonder if there wasn’t a conspiracy among the three wives. Finally, the women themselves set out to discover what really happened.

All of this is quite entertaining. Bond manages to create some very funny scenes as well as some very moving moments. However, this doesn’t leave much time for romance, and romance there must be. Natalie is the “wife” who gets the love story, with the pawnshop owner, no less. Brian is really a nice guy, despite his job, as is evidenced by the fact that he takes good care of his two little nieces. That Brian might be taken with Natalie makes a certain amount of sense. That Natalie would embark on a romance with Brian so soon after the death of her “husband,” even if he had betrayed her, seems much less plausible. So the romance in Our Husband is not only truncated; it also seems unlikely.

There was one other problem with the story: Raymond. He never came to life for me. OK, I know he is dead for most of the story, but I never quite understood what it was about the man that led three women to fall in love with him and to close their eyes to his activities. He must have had considerable charm and charisma, but it never really came across. Instead, he seems like a real slime ball. But if this was the case, why did two seemingly intelligent women love him?

While Our Husband has some problems, it also has its good points, especially its depiction of the surprising friendship that grows among the three “wives.” As “women’s fiction,” the book succeeds quite well. As romance, it is merely acceptable.

--Jean Mason

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