The Third Wife
I picked up The Third Wife for two reasons. First of all, it’s set in Denver, which is where I live, and I haven’t seen many contemporary novels set in Denver. And secondly (I admit it) I was intrigued by the salacious polygamy angle. I ended up being satisfied by the portrayal of both Denver and polygamy, and through much of the book I was quite satisfied with the suspense plot as well. I was sure I had a solid B on my hands. Unfortunately, things took a real downturn towards the end, and the wrap-up of the suspense plot was too swift and too unbelievable. The book ended up as a barely-above-average read for me.
Anna Langtry became part of the True Life Latter Day Saints church when her mother married one of its members. She’d had a relatively normal upbringing until that point, but while life inside a polygamous household was an adjustment for her, it wasn’t a problem until her junior year of high school. Her talk of college and scholarships prompted her stepfather to marry her off – as the third wife of his brother. In response to Anna’s protests, her stepfather locked her in her room, and her mother and “aunts” (the other wives) were unwilling to help. She decided her only defense was to feign compliance and excitement for her upcoming nuptials. On the evening of her wedding night – and seventeenth birthday – she took the keys to her husband’s car and headed toward Denver, planning never to look back.
Fifteen years later, Anna’s a parole officer with a Master’s in social work. She’s been happy in Denver, and with the ups and downs of her challenging job. When she sees the file on her newest parolee, she is a little less than enthusiastic. Joe Mackenzie is a white collar criminal, convicted of embezzling a million dollars from the bank he worked for – from the retirement accounts of senior citizens. Anna is sure he will be arrogant and guilty, and when she meets him she is quickly annoyed by his supercilious tone and overuse of the word “ma’am.”
Joe Mackenzie has actually been framed, but his years in jail taught him that the only way to get out was to confess his guilt to the parole board and pretend to be very remorseful. His only goal now that he’s out of prison is to find the people who framed him and took four years of his life away. He already knows why he was framed; he had discovered massive money laundering in the bank, and was about to go to the bank president with this information when he was arrested. His goal when he meets Anna is to appear non-descript and invisible. He doesn’t want to catch her eye or even register in her brain if he can help it. Unfortunately, he didn’t plan on the instant chemistry between the two of them. Their mutual attraction also takes Anna completely by surprise; she’s never even thought of one of her parolees in a sexual way before.
Through information given to her by another parolee, Anna learns that Joe’s life is in danger. One thing leads to another, and they spend a night in Anna’s apartment before heading to Durango to discover who framed Joe – and who is trying to kill him now. As they explore Joe’s past, some people from Anna’s past resurface as well, and they discover that they share some common enemies. Anna and Joe will have to face some rich and powerful adversaries before they can come to terms with their feelings for each other.
I really enjoyed the first three-fourths of this book. Anna and Joe were both quite sympathetic. Anna’s had a tough life, and her motivation and self-reliance are very endearing. I couldn’t help but admire a woman who fled a forced marriage, put herself through high school and college, and dedicated herself to a difficult profession. Joe’s pre-jail life was a little more carefree and maybe even flighty, but his experiences behind bars had made him appreciate the smallest things in life – a cup of good coffee in a restaurant, a room of his own (however small and shabby), and clean clothes.
Initially, their relationship and the tension it causes are very believable. Cresswell has a smooth style, and the dialogue and inner thoughts of the characters usually ring true. At one point Anna compares her actions to those of a “mentally challenged chipmunk,” and I couldn’t help laughing out loud.
For some time I was sure I was reading a B or even a B+ book. The suspense hummed along, the romance was developing slowly but believably, and the characters were interesting. Unfortunately, the pace accelerated at the end and every plot was wrapped up very abruptly. The book could have used a hundred extra pages, easy. Suddenly nothing was believable. The romance seemed rushed and inappropriate, and the finale and bad-guy round-up seemed way too premature. It was quite a let down after such a promising beginning.
However, fans who’ve enjoyed Cresswell in the past might be willing to give this a shot anyway. The book has a lot going for it, especially at first. And I do have to mention how grateful I was to discover that Cresswell clearly differentiates the polygamous church portrayed in the book from the mainstream Mormon church. Even in this day and age, I run into people who think Mormons still have multiple wives. Anyway, if the subject is one that interests you, you might consider trying The Third Wife despite the rushed ending.