What would you do if you found out that your identity was a lie? That you had been kidnapped as a child and sold to be raised as someone else? Those are the questions that confront Dr. Callie Dunbrook when she goes to rural Maryland to lead an archeological dig and finds more than just a prehistoric settlement – she finds out she’s the long lost child of a local family. Her world shaken, she does what she does best, she digs for answers about who stole her and why.
Fortunately, Callie isn’t alone in her search. Much to her consternation, her ex-husband, Jacob “Jake” Graystone, the dig’s anthropologist, is in town and more than willing to help her. While Callie doesn’t know why their marriage failed or even if she’s ready to deal with Jake yet, she does need the help and unconditional support he offers. Nor is she adverse to the friendship that slowly builds between them. If only finding answers to her past were only as easy as re-building a relationship with the man she loves. Instead, someone doesn’t want Callie to find answers and will go to great lengths to stop her, even resorting to murder.
Birthright is classic Roberts, and it’s a story told on a human level. She keeps it simple; the focus is on the relationships and the interactions between the characters and how these revelations affect their lives. And it’s not just Callie and Jake, but her biological and adoptive families, as well as members of the dig. The reader comes to care about these characters as if they are real people because Roberts fleshes them out and makes even the little moments shine.
Jake and Callie are likable leads. Jake is a charmer and a flirt, quick with a witty comeback and a shoulder to lean on. Callie is a tougher nut to crack, and a tomboy with a quick temper. Her emotions run deep and she’d rather push someone away – Jake in particular – before they know how much she needs them. It’s clear from the get go that these two are in love and the reader wonders where it all went wrong. Jake and Callie clearly know how to push each other’s buttons (e.g. to get his attention she plays the theme to Jaws on her cello knowing full well it creeps him out), but more importantly they know what the other needs without anything being said.
There’s also a very nice secondary romance between Callie’s biological brother, Doug Cullen, and her lawyer, Lana Campbell. Doug’s life was turned upside down at age three; his baby sister was stolen while his mother turned to comfort him after the shopping mall Santa scared him. Somewhere deep inside he’s always blamed himself for stealing his mother’s attention at that fateful moment, not to mention he grew up with the specter of his missing sister and how her loss tore his family apart. Not exactly a sturdy emotional foundation for a new relationship. He only goes out with Lana because his grandfather pushes for it. Lana is amused by Doug’s reluctance and is dating him for the same reason he goes out with her, as a favor to his grandfather. As a young widow and single mother, she’s not sure she can open her heart to someone new. These two wounded souls find that falling in love isn’t as tough as they imagined. In some ways their relationship was a little more intriguing because Jake and Callie are a foregone conclusion.
It’s not just the relationships between couples that are important, but the relationships between friends and family that play a role as well. It’s heartbreaking to watch Callie interact with her birth parents, knowing full well she can’t give them back what they lost, a daughter. Her devotion to the parents who raised her after unwittingly buying a black market baby is equally touching. These relationships are handled with care and a sense of reality; there are no easy answers or immediate happy reunions.
Though the scale is small, the minute details from smells, colors, to clothes and music are all described to give the reader a full picture. On the music front and in response to past gripes about Roberts utilizing non-age appropriate music, as someone very nearly the same age as Callie I can happily report all the music selections this time were quite believable and incredibly accurate. As for complaints I’ve heard about Callie being a bit ahead in her field for her age, she’s portrayed as an over-achiever, so it didn’t bother me.
The mystery aspect of the story was the weakest link. Despite the final explanations the reasoning behind it didn’t quite gel for me. I can understand the need to cover up wrong doings, especially if they were still occurring, but I was never quite clear if that was the villain’s reason, or if the motivation was to preserve the reputation of others. When unveiled in the final moments, the villain’s evil psychosis was a bit overblown, yet it’s a very small gripe because the rest of the story was so well done.
If you’re a fan of Roberts past work you will not be disappointed by Birthright, and if you’re a new reader it’s a good place to start to get a feel for Roberts does best: believable, well rounded characters and an engrossing story.