Click here to read reviewer Douglas R. Cobb's take on Origin.
Once more Abu-Jaber veers from the conventional, tackling a thriller laced with the fragmented memories of a young woman tormented by her lack of a past. In Syracuse, New York, fingerprint expert Lena Dawson has carved a comfortable niche for herself in a small department where she can concentrate on the evidence at hand, free from the machinations of a larger bureaucracy.
Averse to publicity, the retiring young woman prefers the anonymity of her chosen field, her work exemplary. Having recently solved a troubling case through a natural gift of intuition, Lena is happy to be of service but unwilling to be in the spotlight. Unfortunately, her fate dictates otherwise when a baby dies of SIDS but the mother of the child refuses to accept the diagnosis, begging Lena to look into the death.
Years of experience cannot shield Lena from her own demons, a haunting past of which she has no recollection save memories of a rainforest. Taken into foster care as an infant, Lena desperately wants to know more about her past, but a stubborn foster mother refuses to discuss any details with her charge.
Although no longer shackled to an unfortunate marriage with Charlie, a Syracuse police officer, Lena has failed to file for divorce, unable to take that final step. For his part, the faithless Charlie is ambivalent as well, proposing to his wife in front of friends, humiliated by her instinctive refusal. Recently pursued by unobtrusive detective Keller Duseky, Lena is hardly ready for another commitment. As she progresses further into the case of the infant’s death, though, Keller becomes an unexpected and welcome ally.
Trapped by the tormented mother’s pleas, Lena senses that indeed there may be another, more heinous explanation for the death. Recently, a number of other so-called crib deaths have occurred in the same county, in sufficient number to warrant further investigation.
There may indeed be a serial killer at work. Even more sinister, the killer may have some obscure but dangerous link to Lena’s past. She has no choice but to follow the cold trail of her early placement, finally demanding answers of the foster parents who have long hidden her origin: “Lost childhood lingers like tribal scars.”
As political pressure builds and the press clamors for information, a kind of psychic madness descends on Lena, a lurking sense of menace that attends her every move. Unsure whether her fears are substantive or a figment of her imagination, Lena encounters the ravings of a troubled but sometimes lucid neighbor who says he knows the identity of the killer, drawn into ever more threatening territory. All is smoke and mirrors, her memories intangible, foster mother resolute in her silence.
A multi-dimensional character whose murky past is intimately woven through an increasingly complicated case, Lena is fascinating, if slightly neurotic. Seeking the revelations of a disturbing history, Lena falls deep into the territory of memory, coming face to face with one who would steal the breath from sleeping infants. With a profound compassion for the human spirit, Abu-Jaber pokes mercilessly into the subconscious, secrets exposed to the light of day, freeing her protagonist to embrace the future.