Don't Talk To Strangers

Hear No Evil

Whose Little Girl Are You?
By Bethany Campbell
(Bantam, $5.99, PG/V) ISBN 0-553-57691-7
Bethany Campbell has made a name for herself in the past four years with her atmospheric suspense novels. Whose Little Girl Are You? continues that tradition, but in a less satisfying package than her last two novels, Hear No Evil and Don't Talk to Strangers.

Jaye Garrett has never had an ideal relationship with her mother, Nona, but she has always been extremely close to her brother Patrick. So when a phone call reveals that Patrick is seriously ill with leukemia, she drops everything to rush home, only to find out a shocking surprise. Neither she nor Patrick are the biological children of Nona and her late husband; both were adopted through the black market.

Desperate to find a blood relative and potential bone marrow donor for Patrick, Jaye sets off to track down his biological family. All she has to start with is sketchy information from Nona that both Jaye and Patrick were born in the small town of Cawdor, Oklahoma, where a physician named Roland Hunsinger operated a clinic for unwed teenage mothers.

When Jaye arrives in Cawdor, she finds that no one wants to talk. Dr. Hunsinger has retired, and a stroke has left him an uncommunicative recluse. His fragile daughter, who recently lost her only child, lives in a fantasy world, and his protective son-in-law rules the town without mercy.

Jaye hooks up with handsome attorney Turner Gibson, who is in Cawdor on behalf of a wealthy client to find out more about Hunsinger's clinic as well. Turner tries to warn Jaye away from Cawdor, claiming that her unsubtle and amateurish questions are stirring up trouble. He even offers to conduct the investigation for her, if she'll just go away and let him do his job. But Jaye's loyalty to Patrick is unyielding, and she and Turner form an uneasy alliance. Jaye is attracted to Turner, but determined to let nothing divert her energies from her search. And Turner is equally attracted to Jaye, but afraid that if she gets too close she might find out that he hasn't been completely honest with her about his client.

Meanwhile, several Cawdor residents have a great deal at stake in keeping Jaye and Turner from learning the truth. More than 30 years ago, something happened at Hunsinger's clinic that needs to be kept a secret from the outside world. Certain individuals associated with that fateful event are threatened by Jaye and Turner's investigation. And another damaged individual living in a cocoon of protective silence becomes greatly agitated by Jaye's resemblance to another woman who passed through Cawdor three decades ago. His behavior increases the danger to Jaye and Turner, who are discovering that there was much more to Hunsinger's adoption clinic than anyone suspected.

Campbell always delivers a creepy, suspenseful product and Whose Little Girl Are You? is no exception. The grisly opening scene pulls the reader in, and keeps the pages turning until the take-no-prisoners conclusion. But the novel lacks the originality of her previous two releases. The bad guys are stereotypical Southern rednecks straight out of Deliverance. The "town with a secret" concept has been done many times before, as has the "hero with a secret."

But Jaye is a strong heroine, and the novel comes to life whenever it focuses on her. She's beautiful, brave and loyal to Patrick. Although the goal of her search is to find Patrick's family, she can't help finding clues about her own biological mother as well. How she deals with her discoveries, as well as how her search impacts her imperfect relationship with Nona, elevates the novel one step above the basic thriller.

Don't Talk to Strangers is still my favorite release by this author, but if you want a well-written, moody suspense novel you can't go wrong with Bethany Campbell.

--Susan Scribner

@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home