Dangerous Decisions by Margaret Kaine

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Helena Standish knows that a good marriage will complete her father’s social standing, but she s her papa’s daughter and not about to accept any fool. Marriage to the handsome and charming Oliver Faraday appears to offer a perfect match, so what cause does she have for misgivings?

Dr. Nicholas Carstairs has scant patience with frivolous pleasure-seekers and an upper class that closes ranks against outsiders. Why then is he haunted by the lovely girl in the window, someone entirely beyond his reach?

A champagne celebration at Broadway Manor marks the start of a happy future for Helena, but what no one can predict are the consequences of her decision or the appalling danger it will bring.

Rating: B

Dangerous Decisions is a well-written and very readable piece of historical fiction set in the Edwardian Era in which the situation of women in society – their lack of independence, limited choices and their position as little more than the chattels of fathers and husbands – is forcefully brought home.

Helena Standish is a well to-do young lady whose father, though wealthy, made his money “in trade”. Even in 1905, with the world on the verge of a massive change in attitudes, people who acquired their wealth through actually working for it were still looked down upon by those who were born with silver spoons in their mouths, and women were still constrained by the rules laid down by society when it came to their behaviour and expectations.
Helena is young, beautiful and vivacious and possessed of intelligence and an inquiring mind. She is courted by Oliver Faraday, a handsome gentleman of property, who seems to be the perfect prospective husband. Oliver has recently come into his inheritance and is now looking about him for a wife so that he can beget himself an heir to secure his property. Helena’s father promotes the match, seeing Oliver as someone who will be able to help to further his political aspirations. Helena is naturally flattered by Oliver’s interest, although she can’t quite forget the face of the handsome young doctor she has glimpsed on occasion from her window and whom she once met briefly.

Oliver is attentive, although somewhat austere, and right from the start, it’s clear that there is something about him that isn’t quite right. As they further their acquaintance and he begins to court her in earnest, Helena admits to herself that she has misgivings about his suit, although she can’t put her finger on exactly why she feels that way.

Helena does her best to set aside her qualms, telling herself she is just being silly; and when Oliver finally proposes, she accepts, knowing it is her father’s wish. As soon as preparations for the wedding begin, Oliver begins making demands, insisting the marriage takes place in London, rather than from the Standish’s home, and generally manipulating Helena and her father so that Oliver gets exactly what he wants regardless of the wishes of anyone else.

Once they are married, Helena begins to recognise that perhaps her misgivings about her new husband were justified. He is autocratic and frequently dismissive of Helena’s wishes, and, she comes to realise, has an almost fanatical abhorrence of anything remotely imperfect or ugly. He shows her none of the consideration due a new bride, and has no desire for emotional intimacy or interest in her other than in her capacity to give him an heir.

Helena’s father and aunt come to see that Helena is not happy in her marriage, and – to his credit – her father feels guilty at the fact that he put his own political ambitions before his daughter’s happiness. But it’s too late. Helena is married, and thus little more than her husband’s property.

Ms Kane has written a thoroughly engrossing story which moves between the lives of the privileged and the slums of 1900s London. The idyllic façade of Helena’s marriage hides something cruel and unpleasant in much the same way as the bustling city hides its less fortunate inhabitants beneath a surface veneer of progress and prosperity. The novel is set during a period of great change and there are a number of references to the political situation of the time, especially in regards to the growing movement for female emancipation.

The story is well-written and the pacing is generally good, although I feel that the last few chapters are very choppy; by which I mean there are lots of short paragraphs coming one after the other, engendering so many fast changes of scene and points-of-view that those chapters seem somewhat disjointed. This means that the ending feels a little rushed and it is also rather a jarring change of style from the rest of the book.

Helena and Oliver are both well-drawn characters, although of necessity, Helena is probably the most well-rounded. Ms Kane does an excellent job of communicating her thoughts and feelings as she struggles to preserve the appearance of a happy marriage. Even though Oliver is a far less sympathetic character, he is similarly well-drawn, the more unpleasant facets of his character being revealed slowly and creating a degree of tension as the reader begins to share Helena’s concerns and then to wonder to what lengths he will go in order to get what he wants.

Dangerous Decisions is an interesting and very enjoyable read. It is not primarily a romance, although there are strong romantic elements; rather it is the story of a young woman’s frustration at her limited choices and how even the most sensibly taken decisions can have disastrous consequences.

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