________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 37 . . . . May 27, 2011


The Second Wife. (Rapid Reads).

Brenda Chapman.
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2011.
128 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-832-5.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Devon Greyson.

** /4



Marjory swung her sad eyes my way. "I didn't know who else to turn to. You've been married to Brian and you're a police officer. I thought you'd know what I should do."

"Whatever are you talking about?"

"Was Brian at any time overly aggressive with you during your marriage?" Her eyes found mine and held.

"Brian! Brian aggressive? You have to be joking."

Marjory flinched but kept her eyes steady on mine. "I worried you'd react like this, but you have to believe me. Brian's changed since we got married. He's become so possessive, he frightens me. I need your help."

I blinked back the laughter tears once I saw she was serious. "Brian is the least violent man I know. I'm sure you're wrong about this."
Not to mention crazy.

"He's changed," she repeated in a voice so small I had to lean forward to hear. "He's just not the man I thought I married."

"I could say much the same," I said, but the irony was wasted on her.

"I don't know who else to turn to," she whispered. "I think he wants to get rid of me."

"I'm probably not the best person to ask about that," I said.
Seeing as how I dream of getting rid of you myself.

Maybe, in hindsight, I shouldn't have blown Marjory off as fast as I did that May afternoon. I could have listened to her fears and found out why she believed Brian was so angry. I should have gotten some details. But how was I to know that a week later Marjory's twenty-year-old son would report her missing and Brian would become the main suspect in her disappearance?

Gwen Lake, a self-described "forty-five-year-old divorced mother of none," is bored at work and not fully over her ex-husband Brian. Although she trained as a police officer, the local Chief's sexism relegates her to secretarial work a situation she resentfully accepts.

      When Brian's new wife asks to meet at a local café, Gwen agrees out of morbid curiosity. Expecting to be offended by a brash young harlot, Gwen is surprised when Marjory shows up with fear in her eyes, confiding that she is afraid of Brian's violent temper. Even more shocking, a week later Marjory is reported missing, and when her body is found, all signs point to Brian as the killer.

      Although all the evidence seems stacked against Brian, Gwen can't believe her ex-husband to be capable of murder. Breaking rules, and then laws, she brings her detective uniform out of the closet and sets about proving her ex-husband innocence. In a small community, Gwen knows she can't keep her investigations secret from her coworkers forever, and so it becomes a race against time to discover the holes in the case against Brian. When she cracks the case, all of Gwen's indiscretions are forgiven, and she is finally promoted to junior detective.

      Set in Duluth, the story doesn't take the time to engage on social themes beyond sexism, assuming the protagonist's first-person perspective on her community. The all-white, small-city setting and escapist plot are both credible but unremarkable. The story speeds along without hitch or awkwardness, despite the limited vocabulary, but doesn't reach heights of action or emotional drama that often grabs readers of Hi-Lo books.

      Youth may identify with Gwen's struggle against sexism at work and her desire to find evidence to support what she knows in her heart is right. However, our protagonist - a frumpy, middle-aged, socially-conservative divorcee with a desk job, who is threatened by her ex-husband's newer, younger wife and calls Marjory's young adult son a "boy" likely holds limited appeal with most teens.

      The new "Rapid Reads" line from Orca/Raven Books is intended to be "easy-read" books for adults, and this book achieves this aim. Thus, while I would recommend The Second Wife to a literacy or GED program for adult learners, an adult class of English language learners, or a women's prison, librarians and teachers collecting for youth may want to pass over this instalment in Orca Books' latest line.

Recommended with reservations.

Devon Greyson is a librarian at the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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