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Friday, September 17, 2010

Guilt, Redemption, & a Mother's Love


To what ends will a mother go for her child? Are there lines she cannot, will not cross... or does the mother-child bond trump all? That is one of the primary questions at the very heart of NY Times best-selling author Nancy Taylor Rosenberg's latest legal thriller,
My Lost Daughter.

*****
Lily Forrester is definitely one of those "bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan" kind of women. But, after spending the last twenty-eight years working overtime, trying to make a good life for herself and her daughter--first, climbing up the ladder from prosecutor to superior court judge in the competitive California legal system, and then, trying to keep the family afloat while her alcoholic husband's career  languished--Lily is fully aware that she hasn't exactly been the model mother... and that her daughter, Shana, has always resented her for it. 


The rift between them has continued to grow over the years, turning Shana into a spoiled, bitter young woman. So, when Lily has some good news, she juggles her busy work schedule so she can fly up and tell Shana in person, hoping to repair some of the damage. What she finds at Shana's apartment is hardly encouraging, though; the place is filthy, and an unkempt Shana stares blankly at the static-filled TV. One screaming fit later, and Lily fears the worst: her daughter is having a meltdown. Lily does what any frantic parent would do today--a quick Google search to find the closest mental health facility, where Shana can presumably receive some medication.

The people running Whitehall Hospital have other ideas, however. The orderlies bundle Shana off to a room by herself, force her to sign some paperwork, and administer a knockout drug. At the same time, the administrator tells Lily that Shana has not only willingly checked herself into a meth-addiction program, but that she's refused to see her mother again. Lily has no choice but to leave her there.


What follows is a terrifying ordeal of abuse for Shana, as she endures solitary confinements, subsists primarily on a cocktail of mind-altering drugs, and has no contact with the outside world. Even in her perpetually-drugged state, though, she is her mother's daughter, and can tell that something is very, very wrong at Whitehall. She also knows that the people in charge have no intention of letting her go any time soon. (It's a horrible experience, but the peek inside life at a facility such as this is a fascinating one, and Shana's interactions with the other patients offer a compassionate look at some of the people suffering from mental illnesses.)

***
Elsewhere, FBI Special Agent Mary Stevens is elated when she realizes that she's onto something big; she has detected an unusual pattern among four separate homicide cases. Each victim was shot in the exact same spot (base of the brain stem), with the head at the same angle (chin almost touching chest), by the same type weapon (a very expensive handgun). Each victim also had legitimate reasons for wanting to die, one of them being the life insurance policy their survivors would be able to collect on. She's certain that the same shooter must have killed all the victims, in some kind of assisted-suicide arrangement.


The tension ratchets up even more, though, when she realizes that the interval between deaths has decreased, and that the killer, who seems to have settled in California, is making his way toward Los Angeles. Mary knows that once the killer reaches L.A., he'll be next-to-impossible to track down. She has to find him now.


***
After weeks of being kept incommunicado, Shana is finally allowed outside contact, and it's no surprise who rushes to the rescue. And Lily, the lifelong righter-of-wrongs (and very angry Mama tiger), means business; when she runs up against a brick wall with the local police, she pulls out the big guns, turning to her old FBI friend, Mary Stevens. (Convenient, yes, but we have to bring those parallel stories together sooner or later...)


***
Meanwhile, a sociopathic madman with a real penchant for killing has found a new obsession... someone he noticed during his latest sojourn at his favorite mental institution. Shana. (I know, it's sort of predictable, but it works just fine within the framework of the story.)


*****
Rosenberg has crammed her nearly 450-page tale not only with multiple plots, but also with a lot of backstory, as characters think about the events, decisions, and actions leading up to the present moment. At first, I assumed it would be distracting, but the memory interludes turned out to be interesting enough that I actually looked forward to them. (Many of Lily's memories are rehashes from earlier books--so Rosenberg's fans will already be familiar with the events described--but they don't really come across like old news; Rosenberg has found a clever way to provide new readers with the necessary history without the awkward clunkiness we usually see in such retellings.)


A lot of space is also devoted to one of Lily's cases-- a case which has virtually nothing to do with Shana's predicament or with Mary's serial killer. Instead of being annoying filler, though, the details of that case--and the opportunity to watch Lily perform in and out of the courtroom--were compelling in their own right. (As a matter of fact, I would have enjoyed an entire story built around that one case.)


My Lost Daughter isn't a "perfect" book, though. I could have done with a little less relationship melodrama; Lily had issues with Shana, her ex-husbands (both of them), and her fiancé, and all that angst wore me down a bit. I know it's fiction, but there's just no way Lily's sex life could always be that good, either (especially not the drunken sex). The sentimental talk between Lily and her fiancé was a little much (or should I say, mushy). And a cat killer? A cat killer??? I am so not happy about that.


Still, given that I finished the whole book in less than a 24-hour period, it's only fair to overlook a few small quibbles (well, not the cat killer)... especially since there was clearly so much about the book that was good. Thriller and suspense fans should definitely jump on this one, because it's a fast-paced story has no trouble enthralling you for those 450 pages. 


It's funny--for one reason or another, it had been a few years since I'd last picked up one of Rosenberg's books... but My Lost Daughter has just made sure that I don't miss the next one. :) 

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4 out of 5 mousies



***Now, for the goodies... a SPECIAL GIVEAWAY!! (Woo-hoo!) Leave a comment below, pertaining to the book, the review (or my boycat, who is always in need of more adoration :)), in order to be entered in a random drawing to win a free copy!! (U.S. readers only, please, unless you live elsewhere are are willing to foot the bill for international shipping costs... in which case, you're eligible, too!)***