Set in a small Wisconsin farming and manufacturing town still crumbling a decade after the depression of the 1890s, A Reliable Wife tells the story of Ralph Truitt, a wealthy businessman who advertises for " a reliable wife" in newspapers across America. The woman he chooses, Catherine Land, describes herself as " a simple, honest woman," but in truth she is both complex and devious not the missionary's daughter she claims to be in her letter to Truitt but a courtesan of great beauty, kept by men and haunted by a terrible past. Catherine's plan in accepting the marriage offer is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is the passion she finds in this seemingly solid, forthright man a man who also harbours secrets and whose own past is far from pure.
Filled with remarkable characters and drenched with colour and atmosphere, A Reliable Wife is a story of love and madness, longing and murder, played out in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.