Picks and Pans Review: Mrs. Kimble

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jennifer Haigh

The title refers to the first, second and third wives of scumbag minister-turned-magnate Ken Kimble. The novel opens in the 1960s just after the caddish preacher has ditched wife one, Birdie, and their two kids. We don't see Mr. Kimble himself in this section, only the distraught family he has jettisoned. He appears in part 2 as a hippie drifter who, having shed his religious robes, woos and weds a former magazine writer. And in the book's final pages, Mr. Kimble, now a slick real estate mogul, has married the waitress who babysat his children during his first marriage.

Why do these women fall for such an oily lothario? Haigh isn't subtle; the book is a vividly updated revision of Smart Women, Foolish Choices. As if the emotional scars weren't evident, the third Mrs. K has a red birthmark covering half her face. The book is often engrossing, but Mr. Kimble is more interesting than any of his wives. Too bad he remains an enigma to the end. (Morrow, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Three rings, not much zing

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