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The Other Daughter by Lisa Gardner
(Bantam, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-57679-8
****
In The Other Daughter, author Lisa Gardner demonstrates a deft touch as she carefully constructs the layers of each of her unique characters while weaving a complex, multi-layered plot.

One night, at a prestigious Massachusetts hospital, a nine-year-old girl is brought back from near death by esteemed surgeon, Harper Stokes. Upon recovery, the child has no memory, there is no record of her admission to the ER, and no one ever steps forward to claim her. Her medical condition was caused by a reaction to morphine.

Simultaneously in Texas, Russell Lee Holmes is electrocuted for the heinous torture deaths of six small children. One child he admitted killing was Dr. Stokes' daughter, Meagan. Dr. Stokes' wife Patricia and teen-age son Brian are in attendance at the electrocution. Also present is journalist Larry Digger, trying to make money out of Holmes' life by making a last attempt to discover the whereabouts of Holmes' mysterious wife and child. He fails.

Five years had passed since the Stokes lost their daughter and rather than have this small child end up in a foster home, they adopt her. Thus, Melanie Stokes is born.

Quickly fast forward twenty years to the elite Beacon Hill section of Boston where Melanie is doing what she does best…hosting a large charity event at her parents home. Unexpectedly, Larry Digger shows up. He had been contacted anonymously and told that Melanie is the executed killer's daughter. Looking for a story that would catapult him to the front pages, he confronts her with the knowledge. The meeting turns physical, and Melanie is protected by one of the caterers.

Waiter David Riggs is actually an undercover FBI Special Agent. He is responding to an anonymous tip that Dr. Stokes and Dr. William Sheffield, Melanie's former fiancé, are perpetrating massive medicare fraud by surgically inserting pacemakers into patients not really needing them – for about $8000 a pop.

The anonymous call to Larry Digger is traced to the Stokes residence, and soon ugly souvenirs with the same foreboding message start arriving. Melanie is tortured by the thought that her parents could have knowingly adopted the child of the murderer of their daughter. When an assassin appears and nearly kills Melanie, David takes steps to protect her.

There will be many times when you will think you know where The Other Daughter is heading, only to find you have been set up again. Through the journey you will experience the many dimensions of love, and the many faces of evil. The plot is so multi-dimensional that it is extraordinary that Gardner is able to address each of the secondary issues so well. Occasionally, I was bothered by the lack of logic in some of the motives, but then, these are complex characters.

Still, the twisted plot plays out naturally. However, romance readers should understand that the romance between David and Melanie is very secondary to the unwinding of the circumstances of Meagan's murder and Melanie's adoption.

But even without the steamy love story that readers of Lisa Gardner (aka Alicia Scott) expect, this story is certainly worth a read. I predict readers will find The Other Daughter very hard to forget.

--Thea Davis


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