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Originby Diana Abu-Jaber
Synopses & Reviews
A fingerprint expert's investigation of a series of crib deaths leads her back to the mystery of her own childhood.
Lena is a fingerprint expert at a crime lab in the small city of Syracuse, New York, where winters are cold and deep. Suddenly, a series of crib deaths — indistinguishable from SIDS except for the fevered testimony of one distraught mother with connections in high places — draws the attention of the police and the national media and raises the possibility of the inconceivable: could there be a serial infant murderer on the loose?
Orphaned as a child, out of place as an adult, gifted with delicate and terrifying powers of intuition, Lena finds herself playing a critical role in the case. But then there is the mystery of her own childhood to solve....Could the improbable deaths of a half-dozen babies be somehow connected to her own improbable survival?
The beauty and originality of Diana Abu-Jaber's writing are here accompanied by deft, page-turning narrative tension and atmosphere, tugging the reader to an unforgettable conclusion.
"Abu-Jaber, who dealt with Arab-American themes in her earlier novels, Crescent and Arabian Jazz, shows her versatility in this gripping contemporary thriller. A spike in the number of local SIDS deaths piques the interest of Lena Dawson, a fingerprint specialist at a Syracuse, N.Y., forensics lab. Is it a statistical fluke or is there a killer at work? Determined to account for the dead infants, Lena joins the investigation, which stirs tantalizing memories from her dimly recollected early childhood. Despite her fragile mental state, Lena proves capable of surprising resolve. Her relationship with her protective ex-husband, her budding romance with a detective and her quest for her own lost past add psychological depth. Abu-Jaber's lovely nuanced prose conveys the chill of an upstate New York winter as well as it does Lena's drab existence before she was drawn into the mystery of the crib deaths. This enthralling puzzle will appeal to both crime fans and readers of literary fiction. 9-city author tour. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"At the beginning of this wonderful novel, 6-year-old Lena sits with Pia, her foster mother, watching an old Tarzan movie on television. 'I sat, openmouthed,' Lena remembers as an adult, 'watching the man, the woman, the birds, the tiger, the leaves. And finally she was there, the one I'd waited for, had known would come eventually. I jumped up, crying, "Mama! Mama!"' Lena's not pointing to Jane, but... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) to an ape. Her foster mother is entirely creeped out. Without knowing how, or why, Lena has totally disgraced herself. After that, Pia and her husband never get around to adopting the lonely little girl. Flash-forward perhaps 30 years. Lena still lives in Syracuse, N.Y. (where she grew up), and works now with the police department as a 'fingerprint examiner and technician.' She's one of those anonymous employees who work in fusty offices, in her case with three other women doing various kinds of scut work to put together cases for prosecution. Their lives are obscure, but Lena prefers it that way. 'I basically like to be left alone and unfussed-with. I don't want to cook, go dancing, chase children, drive cars, plant flowers, do yoga, or any of the dozens of other things people advise me to do.' She's good at fingerprints and examining evidence. She feels, fairly strongly, that she has come from an unknown world — a rain forest, most likely. She leaves crumbs scattered around her desk from her brown-bag lunches and forgets to wash her hair for days at a time. And she has strong instincts and senses. A few years back she solved a case by using these skills. (Her police colleagues weren't exactly beside themselves with altruistic joy when she got this unexpected jolt of publicity.) Lena was once married to Charlie, a policeman. After his fourth affair, they broke up — with heartbreak on her part. But now that they're apart, he can't stop taking her to dinner once a week and lecturing her about her many shortcomings — and reminding her that, after all, she's still his wife. He tends to get nowhere with all this blustering due to Lena's utter lack of energy. She's moved out of their house and into a drab furnished apartment in a bad part of town. She craves nothing but solitude, taking the bus (or walking) back and forth between work and 'home,' during a punishing, endless Syracuse winter. Her somnolent calm is broken as she comes to work one morning. A hysterical woman has pushed past security; she accosts Lena. 'My baby is — he died five weeks ago. The police haven't done a single thing about it. Nothing.' As guards try to pry the woman away, she continues: 'You're the evidence specialist? You can find things. That's what I heard. You're better than the police.' Lena's colleagues are far from impressed by the grieving mother's performance. For one thing, SIDS (crib death) is fairly common. And aside from a crazed parent, who'd want to go around killing babies? The mother is simply overwrought and that has to be the end of it. Lena's superior, Alyce, one of the women in the awful little room, warns Lena to stay out of it. I'm not sure I've been able to imply just how much creepy fun 'Origin' is to read. It's not every day you find a heroine who's convinced (with good reason) that she's been raised by apes. And it's rare indeed that weather plays a leading role in a narrative, but the author invokes cold and its awful dangers in a hundred horrifying ways. The roles of churlish ex-husband and unfeeling mother-figure have been done often enough, but Charlie, the burly, conniving, unrepentant self-deluding cop, is a joy to see in action, and Pia, the foster mother, acts stone-crazy because she is stone-crazy, poor little thing. And what about those crib deaths, which finally add up to eight? Could there be a serial killer of babies wandering frozen Syracuse during this menacing winter? The cribs that accrue in the evidence room would seem to say that, indeed, a monster is roaming the streets. Meanwhile, the four women, penned up in their little room, pick on each other. Alyce, older and purely awful, bosses and snoops. Margo, a single mother of two, is petulant and angry at everybody. Sylvie keeps her head down. Lena goes home to her joyless rooms. No one in the police department has either a literal or figurative clue about the baby deaths. A ghastly reporter begins to stalk Lena. And when Lena finally visits a crime scene, the toxic horror from the crib sends her reeling out of the house. Lena's no hero. She's scared to death almost all the time and terribly depressed. People have been lying to her since her first conscious moment. There's probably something in her that powerfully wants to die. And someone is after her job, planting evidence that questions her competence. But she's determined to find out who's killed those babies, and why. The solutions to the myriad mysteries here are spookier and sadder than even the beginnings of the plot would have you believe. 'Origin' is an original — just wonderful to read." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Abu-Jaber has created a literary mystery that weaves an intriguing psychological character study with a tense and compelling plot that results in a rewarding finish. Lena is a flawed but appealing protagonist; let's hope she surfaces in sequels. Recommended." Library Journal
"Abu-Jaber crafts an utterly magnetic story....Readers seeking gorgeously rendered fiction as well as intelligent and atmospheric mysteries will find Origin extraordinary." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Abu-Jaber transcends formula, weaving the whodunit in prose as evocative as poetry....Haunted, moving crime fiction." Kirkus Reviews
"Abu-Jaber's lyrical, intelligent writing makes Origin outstanding. But it is her aptitude for plotting and character development that further elevates Origin." South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"Haunting and compelling....It's a little film noir, a bit independent-woman-detective thriller, and winningly fresh in its approach." Miami Herald
"[A] thoughtful, multi-layered novel." Seattle Times
"Finally, a novel of literary suspense that gets almost everything right--forensically and psychologically."--Sarah Weinman,
In this "mystery of cold beauty and dark isolation, written with crystalline precision" (), a series of crib deaths in Syracuse, New York, draws the attention of police and national media. Is a serial infant murderer at large?A "haunting story, icy cold in its upstate New York setting but glowing with the unusual brightness of its heroine" (), stars a solitary fingerprint examiner who finds herself playing a critical role in the case. Diana Abu-Jaber, a "gifted and graceful writer" (), masterfully "transcends formula" () as "the tension of escalates, shaped as much by beautifully nuanced prose as menacing events" (). Reading group guide included.
About the Author
Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of Crescent, Arabian Jazz, and The Language of Baklava. She divides her time between Portland, Oregon, and Miami, Florida.
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