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Dancing With Sin by Jane Goodger
(Topaz, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-451-40844-6
****
This is an unusual book. I can't exactly say I enjoyed it, in the usual meaning of that word. But when a book keeps you turning pages, keeps you on the edge of your chair, and keeps you up much of the night not reading the story but rather thinking about it; when you can't get the characters or plot out of your mind; well, then, I guess there's nothing to do but recommend Dancing with Sin.

The book is set in Springfield, Massachusetts in the late 19th century. The hero and heroine are both well off, well respected Catholics of French Canadian descent. And they are married already as the book begins.

Rose and Luke Beaudette have been married for less than six months, and all is not well in their relationship. Rose is the daughter of an extremely rigid, extremely pious, extremely overbearing mother who has instilled in her the belief that marital relations are a painful burden and that she should "offer up her pain to the souls in purgatory." This advice did not lead to a very satisfactory wedding night and the situation has not improved since that time.

Luke loves his wife very much and he remembers that one passionate encounter before they were married and before Rose's mother convinced her daughter of the unpleasant and sinful nature of sex. He knows that the woman who responded so enthusiastically to his embrace is buried somewhere within Rose's proper facade.

Rose herself is unhappy with her circumstances, wishes she and Luke could break out of the deadening pattern of their lives, wishes that things were different. Thus, she is delighted when, after confession one Saturday, she meets a lively and interesting woman in church. Colette Taylor is very different from the woman Rose knows. And as she soon discovers, Colette's relationship with her husband is different from the distant and staid behavior that is typical in her circle. The two seem genuinely fond of each other.

Rose is intrigued by Colette's open and frank manner; she was never permitted to make friends outside her family as she was growing up. Having a woman friend with whom to share her dreams and fears is a wonderful new experience. And the lifestyle of the Taylors seems so liberating to one who has been circumscribed all her life.

But right from the start, the reader knows that the Taylors are not what they seem, that they are using Rose in some kind of plot to destroy her husband, an assistant district attorney. And thus, the suspense as the reader watches Rose drawn more deeply into their web.

In one way, the association with the Taylors seems beneficial; Rose and Luke break down the barriers between them and for a brief, shining moment, seem on the road to happiness. But then the dire machinations of the Taylors begin to work, first driving a wedge between husband and wife and finally, horribly, framing Rose for murder and painting her as an adulteress. Luke resigns his position to defend his wife, but it is clear to Rose that he is not convinced of her innocence.

This is a very well written book. Goodger has created characters who resound with authenticity. Rose is a fine creation; her innocence makes her the perfect prey for the Taylors' schemes. The reader watches with dismay as she is betrayed by people she had thought she could trust but does not perceive her to be stupid, only and understandably naive. We suffer with her as she watches her world collapse around her, as she is drawn into a web of deceit, and as she has to face the disdain of those who are all too ready to believe the worst.

Luke is a man torn between his love for his wife and the evidence that suggests her guilt. It takes him quite a while to overcome his doubts, but he does not come across as uncaring. The fact is that love isn't blind and the fragile flower of Luke's and Rose's newfound closeness is easily damaged by the seemingly convincing proof that she had betrayed him. Damaged, but not destroyed as Luke's realization that he was the target grows. And yet, the prosecution's case appears so airtight. What will Luke do if cannot save the wife he loves? How will he live with himself if she must spend the rest of her life in prison?

Goodger is equally deft at creating a cast of secondary characters who enrich the book. The rigid mother, the retiring father, the boorish brother-in-law, the unhappy sister, the villain and villainess, the prosecuting attorney all are fully developed individuals, skillfully portrayed.

Dancing with Sin might be categorized as historical romantic suspense. I am always impressed by authors who can create and sustain suspense even when the reader knows there must be a happy ending. Goodger nearly had me in tears as I watched Rose and Luke wander through the park on what might have been her last day of freedom. No small feat.

Intense, compelling, riveting, disturbing all these words describe Dancing with Sin. I am now going to read a light and frothy Regency. I need it.

--Jean Mason


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