Never Marry a Stranger
Normally I don’t like romances that are based on deception. They just sit badly with me. However, Gayle Callen made this plot far more palatable for me in Never Marry a Stranger, which managed to add a level of rationality and plausibility to a farcical set-up.
Captain Matthew Leland was injured while fighting in India, and spent months recuperating – months during which his family mourned his death, having been mistakenly notified of his demise by the army. As soon as he realizes the mistake, he dispatches back to England to see his family, set the record straight, and return from the dead. However, there’s something he wasn’t expecting upon returning home – a wife. Emily “Leland” had insinuated herself into his family, and as Matthew hates scandal and didn’t want to spoil his homecoming for his family, he told them his injuries left him with some amnesia—and among the missing memories were all memories of his wife.
Emily, for one, is delighted to hear about this amnesia, as it allows her to prolong her act. It was not malice that led her to Matthew’s family, but desperation, pure and simple. Her only hope is to make Matthew fall in love with her before his memory returns. However, a villain from her past has returned with the truth, putting her and Matthew and his family in danger.
The basic plotline had a lot of potential for unnecessary drama, histrionics, and misunderstandings. Though a lot of the decisions made by Matthew and Emily regarding their deception of each other were a bit illogical, and far more complicated than they needed to be, Callen managed to give all the characters a necessary level of rationality to explain their actions adequately. She actually gave Matthew a reason to make up his amnesia story, other than the fact that without it the book would be about 30 pages long and not a romance. As someone who doesn’t appreciate contrived set-ups, this was much appreciated.
Similarly, Emily’s reasoning was legitimate for me. I expected to dislike her, but I didn’t. She has an interesting mix of desperate survival instincts and selfless affection for those around her. Though I wouldn’t expect a romance author to characterize someone in her position any other way, it felt far more sincere in this circumstance than others.
Unfortunately, the historical aspects of the novel felt a bit too wallpapery for me, and I questioned the accuracy of a few things. I’m pretty sure a bathtub with running water and a drain would have been extraordinarily rare in 1845. Dialogue was a little stilted sometimes, and some aspects of the plot felt contrived.
However, for the most part, I enjoyed the book. I admit to having low expectations, given the plot, but I was pleasantly surprised by how Never Marry a Stranger made an unrealistic storyline feel natural.