The Third Wife by Jasmine Cresswell
(Mira, $6.50, PG) ISBN 1-55166-931-5
***
On her seventeenth birthday, Anna Langtry became the third wife of her polygamist uncle Caleb Welks. The small rural Colorado town of Alana Springs was populated by the breakaway branch of the True Life Latter Day Church which embraced the concept of “celestial marriages” and expected very young girls to marry before finishing school and join the retinue of wives producing children in one large happy family.

Caleb was one of the town’s foremost citizens; through his position at the bank he was able to keep his wives in style. Anna had initially refused to marry Caleb, but after enduring three days locked up without food, she realized her choice was to marry and then to escape. After a brutal consummation of the marriage, she bided her time that night, and finally fled in Caleb’s car to Denver.

The Third Wife resumes seventeen years later as Federal Parole Officer Anna Langtry is in the midst of work. The need to help offer others a second chance pushed her to this position, which has been marred by its large share of disappointments in failures.

The day Joe Mackenzie shows up to meet his parole officer is one of Anna’s more disillusioned days. Her usual show of good will is dampened as she meets Joe, convicted embezzler of over a million dollars from a Durango bank. The government had easily proven its case by the use of credit card statements and bills of sale showing he had spent hundreds of thousands in the six months prior to his arrest.

Joe had not made parole the first time because he kept protesting his innocence, but by the time he met Anna he was appropriately penitent and bright enough to say all the right words to show remorse. Anna recognizes this for just what it is; in addition she holds his MBA from Wharton against him; so their start is rocky.

Joe is committed to finding out who set him up for the four years he served in prison. Anna is stunned to be drawn to Joe. Still carrying emotional baggage from her wedding night rapes, she is inept in handling the attraction.

Jasmine Cresswell does a brilliant job of placing a polygamous culture in modern day America. She is equally at home in bringing prison life and the hereafter to a novel with its problems and its attempts at solutions with caring and noncaring parole officers. Her characters are extremely well drawn, and the dialogue is unquestionably always in voice, whether it is a 17 year old speaking or a street punk. At times there is too much inner dialogue which is distracting.

The story ambles along as Anna joins Joe in his search for the truth, crossing every line a parole officer must not cross. What is not so well done is this book is the pacing of the suspense side of the story. The problems that Anna and Joe face in the maturation of any relationship override the entire book; the resolution of them is too swift and too contrived.

However since Cresswell does such a good job storytelling it may well is enough for some to enjoy the trip rather than the arriving.

--Thea Davis


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