Akin to Death and Murder in Brief, Carroll Lachnit, Berkley Prime Crime(out of print, check for used copies at our ABE store).
These gripping novels are out of print but we have a pretty good selection of them at the moment; I picked up Akin to Death on a whim when a customer brought it in to trade and was taken in completely by the first chapter. Akin to Death is actually the third book in Lachnit's four book series about ex-cop turned lawyer Hannah Barlow; when we meet her in Murder in Brief she's a law student whose been driven from the police force by a sense of powerlessness. She figures the law will be less emotionally involving and messy - boy, is she wrong. Lachnit deftly surrounds Hannah with several characters who become mainstays of this short series - Guillermo, law professor and future love interest; Bobby, lusty of appetite and continually lovelorn, the fellow law student who becomes Hannah's partner; and Vera, the secretary (she's introduced in book two, A Blessed Death) who is so quiet she even types in lower case. When she uses upper case letters, Hannah knows to look sharp. Hannah herself is a classic mystery heroine - smart, somewhat conflicted, with a complicated and busy life. She still wants to - like all good mystery heros/heroines - set everything right. In Murder in Brief, Hannah herself is accused of plagiarism in the first chapter and when her partner on the moot court paper in question is run over by a train - not, obviously, by accident - Hannah is driven to unravel the mystery to save her own skin.
Like writers Rochelle Krich and Lynn Hightower (two other underrated authors), Lachnit is very good at putting together a layered and complicated story with lots of memorable characters and a twist or three at the end. The richness of the background is a welcome one - Hannah seems to live in the real world where decisions and actions are limited by real life concerns like money, time, and circumstance. When Hannah meets the dead student's widow - and her unpleasant father - she is even more galvanized into action in order to help the widow out from under the thumb of a domineering father and the shadow of a husband who seemed delightful on the surface but had so much more (much of it unpleasant) hidden underneath. There's a nail biting finale involving trains and train whistles - you'll have to read it for yourself to find out about it, but it certainly whetted my appetite for what, I think, is the strongest novel in the series, Akin to Death.
Akin to Death grabs you and doesn't let go; when a long waited for adoption is about to go through at Hannah's law office, the thought to be out of the picture father turns up and stakes a claim to the baby in question. The adopting couple are wealthy, career oriented and picture perfect; the picture that emerges of the birth mother as the story progresses is an ascending tower of lies that make the situation more and more unbearable for all concerned. While the birth mother is no angel, the layers are also peeled away from the adoptive parents, and by the end of the novel, everything you may have expected to happen has been blown out of the water. This is great suspense and character development all in one enjoyable package; if you can find a copy don't hesitate to pick it up.
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