Unexpected Family

Home at Last by Laurie Campbell
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1386, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24386-3
Back blurbs seem to be giving more detailed hints these days. From this one we learn that the heroine is searching for her three children. She asks an old friend for help, a friend from whom she still keeps a special secret. He's such a good detective that he notices that the eldest child has some of his features. Could it be? Did the one time they made love eight years earlier result in . . . the secret baby?

Home at Last features a mother's worst nightmare, the kidnapping of her children. Kirsten Laurence is at the airport, awaiting the return of her three kids who've been with their father. When they don't get off the plane, she panics. The impact is lessened somewhat because the father is leaving messages, saying that he just wants the kids for more of the summer. Kirsten knows what an irresponsible father he is, so it's weird that he wants them longer.

Not knowing where else to turn, she contacts an old friend, detective J.D.Ryder. She, J.D. and her ex-husband were best friends in high school. J.D. is leaving Phoenix for a high-powered police job in Chicago. He's able to take time off and agrees to help Kirsten find her children. Neither one of them had wanted to contact the other. Both remember a brief affair from eight years earlier. J.D. left for the Army soon after, not knowing that Kirsten was pregnant. She married the wrong guy, a man who never knew that his best friend was the father of Kirsten's baby.

Kirsten wants to tell J.D. about his daughter, but he makes so many references about being a loner, about not being father material and about his miserable childhood that she sees no need. It's hard to disagree with her, knowing that J.D. will be leaving soon. The story takes us from one city to another as J. D. and Kirsten seek her children. Along the way they realize that their relationship still has meaning to them.

Several things bothered me about Home at Last. A feature that I slowly began to recognize and accept is that the author has interspersed a lot of these characters' history with no clear juxtaposition between past and present. I'd be reading along and suddenly realize that I was back in high school with the characters. That sudden shift in time slowed down my reading and broke the flow for me.

What bothered me most, though, was their ages. From what I could gather, this story takes place eight years after high school, which would make Kirsten and J.D. around twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Kirsten is divorced, yet doesn't seem to have any way of supporting herself. And here's J.D., young by anybody's standards, who's about to take an elite job with the Chicago police force. This nebulous feel, this inability to get a grip on their ages is a big distraction. I don't insist on absolute accuracy, but everyday occurrences need to add up, and they don't here.

Giving Home at Last a three-heart rating seems the prudent way for me to go. It really doesn't work for me, but there aren't glaring problems. With that in mind, it might fill a need and become an enjoyable read for someone else.

--Linda Mowery

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