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by Carroll Lachnit
Berkley, December 000/
384 pages
ISBN: 0425164098

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I'm still catching up with Carroll Lachnit's books - Akin To Deathis not her most recent. Lachnit is an under-appreciated legal mystery writer. Her solid paperback originals, Murder In Briefand A Blessed Death were very suspenseful and well-written, so I was glad to catch up in this third book featuring Hannah Barlow.

Akin To Death has some similarities to a book by Carolyn Wheat called Fresh Kills. At issue is adoption, a lawyer's involvement in seeing through an open adoption, one in which the adoptive parents, Stephan and Rebecca Drummond have a relationship established with the mother-to-be, Laura Benson. Barlow and her law partner Bobby Terry inherited this case from another attorney who sold them his practice and then took off. At the celebration of the final process, suddenly, a man slams into the law office, swearing and calling Laura names, saying that she could not give away his son.

The story only gets more complicated from there. The emotions aside, the more Hannah looks into the issues, the more she curses the lawyer who dumped this mess on them. Laura is, at best, a liar; at worst, she is a conniving, despicable, manipulative liar. There are people who care for her and people who she has hurt badly. She in fact was married to the raving man who found her that day, but claims that Matthew is not his child. She claims to be this, she claims to be that. The reader starts realizing that there is little that this woman says that one can believe. The Drummonds, however, aren't the perfect picture they appear to be either and it becomes hard to know who the good guys are here.

I'm not a fan of ornate plotting, and Akin To Death has many convolutions. It's a long book for a paperback - almost 375 pages, and yet, I stayed with every twist and turn. Lachnit writes cleanly, and lets the reader see what Hannah sees, without playing games. Many people's lives are affected here, not the least of whom is baby Matthew, who doesn't need to be a ping-pong ball. I'm not known as a major fan of kids, but I'm a major fan of treating children right. The lies and assumptions and diversions created by Laura, the man she claims fathered her child (no, that's not simple either), her family ties, the Drummonds' attitudes all escalate to a sad, not unexpected finale, but one in which some good guys end up winning. The liars never stop lying or pretending.

Hannah's a former cop, and retains some useful ties to the police department - always an iffy situation with stories which are essentially about amateur detectives (Hannah's a lawyer, not a private investigator). Complicating her life is her ambivalence about her lover, and moving in with him. Her own complicated family background affects her thinking on this case, as it is bound to do.

There are some powerful players in this game, politicians and family on all sides. There are issues of "blood" and the importance to some people of family lineage. Too many people are involved in what was to be, at first, a good thing - the providing of a child with a good solid home. The unraveling of all the plans, and the lives of the people involved makes for enthralling reading --

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, January 2000

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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