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Review: Johanna Moran's 'Wives of Henry Oades' was inspired by 1800s bigamy case

Johanna Moran inherited the plot of her debut novel, The Wives of Henry Oades. Fifty years ago, Moran's father, then a law student, came across the case of Oades, who was tried and acquitted— three times — for bigamy in San Francisco a century ago, in an era when bigamy was a hanging offense.

Moran's father always thought the tale would make a fascinating novel but never got around to writing it. Now his daughter, a Sarasota resident, has proved that his instinct was right.

Oades is a young British accountant who takes a job in New Zealand, moving there in 1891 with his wife, Margaret, and their two youngsters. A year later, just after Margaret gives birth to twin girls, she and all the children are kidnapped during an uprising by the Maori, New Zealand's indigenous people.

Oades, heartbroken, searches for them for more than a year before giving them up for dead and sailing for California. There, he becomes the prosperous owner of a dairy farm and marries a young widow, Nancy. In 1899, Margaret and three of the children (one baby died during the abduction) appear on Henry's doorstep, having survived slavery, a perilous escape and a grueling sea voyage to reunite with him. He loves both his families and cannot see why he should cast either one out, despite the law and a community gripped by anti-Mormon sentiment (although the Oades family were not Mormons).

Moran focuses her satisfying, briskly paced novel on Henry's two wives. Their experiences and attitudes are very different, yet their love for their children and their shared husband brings them to an unusual and courageous alliance.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435.

The Wives of Henry Oades

By Johanna Moran

Ballantine, 356 pages, $15

Meet the author

Johanna Moran will discuss and sign her novel at 7 p.m. Thursday at Inkwood Books, 216 S Armenia Ave., Tampa.

Review: Johanna Moran's 'Wives of Henry Oades' was inspired by 1800s bigamy case 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 3:30am]

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