The Surrogate Wife
by Barbara Leigh
(Harl. Historical #478, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29078-0
It's difficult to accept the premise of The Surrogate Wife -- convicted (but innocent heroine) killer is sentenced to take care of victim's family. It's also difficult to accept the victim's family's lack of interest in exposing the real murderer.

Meagan Anne Reilly has been convicted of the murder of Lily Daniels, a woman she barely knew. Supposedly, in a fit of temper, Meagan pushed Lily down the stairs. Because, at this time in history, there are no prison facilities in the Carolinas for females, she's facing a sentence of death.

But the presiding Judge doesn't like hanging women so he gets creative in his approach to sentencing. Since Meagan is supposed to have murdered a woman who was a wife and mother, she must take the woman's place as an indentured servant for life to the grieving widow, Josh Daniels.

Indentured servants are commonplace, and a farmer like Josh won't be able to survive without someone to cook, clean and help him care for his daughter, Abby. At least this is the Judge's reasoning when he pronounces sentence.

After the Judge finishes sentencing Meagan to a life of slavery, her attorney protests that this is immoral and that Meagan can't live alone with Josh. The Judge replies that he can't believe that any man would want his wife's murderer but if Meagan should seduce Josh she will be hanged until she's dead.

The whole setup for The Surrogate Wife is hard to believe. That any judge would think a convicted killer should be taking care of the family of her victim is beyond the pale.

Also, it's hard to understand or accept Josh's immediate attraction to his wife's killer. And it's even more implausible that daughter Abby seems to show no concern that her mother's been killed -- children tend to love their parents, even the not so great ones.

The basic questions/conflicts The Surrogate Wife poses are these: If having sex with the man you loved carried a sentence of death by hanging would you take the risk? Should the man who supposedly loves you allow you to take that risk?

Actually, I might have been able to go along with the story line if Josh had been more interested in discovering who really murdered his wife. The story does include some nice pioneer-man and-woman-working-side-by-side chapters, which I liked.

However after working side by side, Josh realizes Meagan is not a liar or the type of person to kill someone in a fit of temper. So you'd think he'd be a little curious as to what really did happen the day his wife was murdered -- if only for Meagan's sake.

But Josh spends more time thinking about kissing and touching Meagan then he does considering who really murdered his wife. In fact, he seems to go out of his way NOT to think or do anything about it or even to allow Meagan to investigate and clear her name. Which keeps the story going, but leaves credibility by the wayside.

--Judith Flavell

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