Twenty years ago a serial killer was put to death in the Texas electric chair. On that same night, a nine-year old girl with no memory of who she is turns up in a Boston hospital where Harper Stokes, a doctor and the wealthy father of one of the victims works. Harper's wife is taken with the little girl who reminds her so much of her own lost daughter. The Stokes family decide to adopt the child and call her Melanie. Throughout the years, Melanie has lived in the lap of luxury, and although her life is not entirely idyllic, she always thought her family loved her...until one fateful night when a washed up investigative journalist shows up on her doorstep claiming that she is really the daughter of a violent killer, the same man who murdered the Stokes' first daughter.
Melanie vehemently denies the reporter's claims, but some strange dreams she has been having about Meagan Stokes make her begin to have unwanted doubts about her adopted family. Melanie becomes acquainted with David Riggs, an FBI agent who is investigating her father and ex-fiancé for insurance fraud, just before she and the rest of her family begin receiving disturbing notes and "gifts" from an anonymous stranger who seems intent on tormenting them with the past. Just as Melanie decides to hear the reporter out, he is gunned down by an assassin, and she and David are nearly killed as well. Melanie finds her life on the line as a twenty-five year old murder investigation is reopened, and asking the question: If the man who confessed didn't kill Meagan Stokes then who really did, and why are they out to get her now?
I believe I first heard of Lisa Gardner through one of the many romance discussion forums to which I belong, so going into reading The Other Daughter, I wasn't entirely certain if it was a romantic suspense or a straight suspense/thriller. After reading the book though, I would have to say it is the latter, but with a minor romantic element. There is a hero and a heroine in the novel. They do develop an attraction for one another, and there is one brief moderately descriptive love scene. However, their relationship wasn't that romantic to me, and I would estimate that it only comprised less than five percent of the total story. Therefore, I would not recommend it to readers who are looking for a true romantic suspense, but it was a good standard suspense/thriller that kept my attention fairly well engaged.
Melanie, the heroine and main character, was adopted twenty years earlier by a wealthy family who had lost their little daughter to a serial killer. She has no memory of the time prior to being found abandoned in a hospital a few months before her adoption. Over the years she has truly become "the other daughter," essentially a replacement for the child the Stokeses lost. Melanie had, albeit perhaps subconsciously, taken on the role of caretaker to her highly dysfunctional family. Now, she, and they, are being plagued by someone who claims that she is actually the daughter of the serial killer. Melanie is a pretty good character, but I found it rather odd that she still lives at home with her parents at the age of twenty-nine, and her parents, in some ways, still treat her like an errant teenager. I also thought that her returning to her parent's house after she knew that they could possibly have been complicit in their daughter's death was a move that bordered on TSTL, and when she ran away after accidentally shooting a man in self-defense, that truly was TSTL. However, I will admit that the author used both of these incidences to propel the plot forward. I was also a bit baffled as to why Melanie kept getting upset with David for keeping things from her regarding his investigation. There are agents in committed relationships who can't reveal such information, and Melanie and David had only known each other for a few days. I guess maybe I can give her a pass though, since suddenly learning that her family had been keeping horrible secrets from her for years was incredibly stressful and made her feel betrayed. I just wish that the author had given a few more insights into her line of thinking.
David was an FBI agent, working undercover in a white collar crimes unit, and investigating Melanie's dad for insurance fraud. He works in this supposedly lower-key division, because a severe arthritic condition which causes him excruciating back pain keeps him from doing anything more strenuous. However, before he knows it, he finds himself embroiled in a twenty-five year old murder investigation that everyone thought was closed, running down clues, and fending off a potential assassin. David struck me as a no-nonsense, hard-boiled detective who was very good at his job. He has a pretty intense alpha type persona with an extremely limited gentler side. I guess as the story went on, he softened up a little, and since this wasn't really a romance his personality didn't bother me as much as it normally would. He and Melanie are both pretty stubborn people though, so they have a tendency to argue quite a bit, but not necessarily in an annoying way.
The Other Daughter was a pretty good mystery/suspense. Although I wouldn't say that it was un-put-downable, it was a rather intriguing story. I must admit though that in spite of not being particularly good at solving mysteries, I did correctly figure out the biggest piece of the puzzle very early in the book, and I was only more convinced by my theory as the story continued. However, the how, who and why for the most part kept me guessing until the end. I was a little disappointed that the author never really explained how Melanie lost her memory though.
The Other Daughter was my first read by Lisa Gardner, and for the most part, I liked her writing style. She has an interesting way of conveying information and progressing the mystery through narrative dialog. Even though this made the dialog quite a bit more dense than I'm used to, it somehow worked OK for me. The book got off to a pretty snappy start, but about a fourth of the way in, it started to slow down as the author explored the tense, sordid relationships of the extremely dysfunctional Stokes family. This made the mystery unfold at a rather languid pace until perhaps the last quarter or so of the book, when things picked up again as all the long-held secrets started to unravel. Overall, I enjoyed The Other Daughter pretty well, and would definitely be open to reading more from Lisa Gardner when I'm in the mood for a good suspense/thriller story that's light on romance.
Note: This book contains a graphic description of an electric chair execution which is not for the faint of heart. Although not particularly descriptive, the way in which the body of the little girl was found mutilated might be troublesome to anyone who is particularly averse to violence against children.
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