Birthright by Nora Roberts
(Putnam, $25.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-399-14984-8
Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again: I donít know how she does it! Nora, the first lady of romance, has released her second book of 2003. While Birthright has a few flaws, it is still an engrossing, fast-paced tale which centers on a woman who discovers that her whole life is based on a falsehood.

Callie Dunbrook is an archeologist. She arrives in the small of Woodsboro after a construction vehicle turns up a skull while excavating for a new housing development. Preliminary analysis suggests that the skull and the accompanying bones are at least 5000 years old. Builder Ronald Dolan had been proceeding with his development despite the opposition of the local preservationists and conservationists who want to maintain the scenic beauty and quiet life of their town. Now he has to stop in his tracks as the experts try to figure out what his worker has uncovered.

Callie is delighted with the challenge; she is sure that this is a major find, perhaps a neolithic village. Its excavation is right up her alley. She is less delighted with the anthropologist assigned to the project. Ten months ago, Callie had slammed out of Jacob Graystoneís life, accusing her then husband of maintaining his rakish ways. Now she has to work with him and come to terms with the fact that the attraction between them hasnít dimmed. But trying to come to terms with her ex is the least of Callieís problems.

Roberts introduces this complexity in the prologue which describes the kidnapping of an infant girl nearly thirty years earlier. Suzanne Cullen had never gotten over the loss of her baby. As she watches the TV report about the dig, she stares in amazement at Callieís face. There are her husbandís eyes, her motherís hair and her own three dimples. Callie Dunbrook looks just like the artistís rendition of her Jessie.

Suzanne confronts Callie who denies the connection. She canít be her daughter; sheís her parentís natural child. But, her curiosity aroused, Callie searches out the truth and discovers that her parents were the victim of an unscrupulous lawyer who ran a child stealing ring. Her parents are appalled that their happiness was achieved at the expense of another familyís misery. Callie decides to uncover the truth and bring the guilty to justice. Before she is through, two men are killed by someone who is trying to stop her.

Many aspects of Birthright are very well done. Letís talk first about the two romances. Jakeís and Callieís love story is a reunion story. The two met, jumped into bed, got married and then tried to build a relationship. They failed miserably and Roberts shows us why and how. She also shows us how the two face the mistakes they made and work to overcome them.

Callie is one of Robertsí brash heroines. Sheís smart and tough and complex. Jake is, like most of the authorís male characters, all man but he knows he needs Callie and sets out to win her back. The two are well matched.

The second romance (second, not secondary) matches Suzanneís son Doug with the local lawyer, Dana. Both are wounded. Doug was present the day his sister was stolen; he watched his family fall apart because of the tragedy. He was scarred by a kind of survivorís guilt. Dana lost her beloved husband to a random shooting. She came to Woodsboro with her young son to rebuild her life. Watching them develop a relationship (Dana is the instigator) shows the healing power of love.

The other aspect of Birthright which is especially well done is the portrayal of the emotional ramifications of the discovery of the truth. Suzanne has rediscovered her daughter but she has not recovered her. Callie is, despite her birth, someone elseís daughter. She has loving parents who gave her a good life and whom she loves. She cannot be Jessie Cullen; she will always be Callie Dunbrook.

Having indicated that so much about Birthright is very good, where are the flaws I mentioned above? They reside in the suspense aspects of the story. Callieís determined search for the perpetrators of the crime that shaped her life is well developed. Unfortunately, the actions and motives of the villain who is responsible for the murders and other crimes are never clearly explained. Thus, the climax of the story was a disappointment.

Still, till almost the end, Birthright was a most enjoyable and satisfying romance. And I still donít know how she does it.

--Jean Mason

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