Birthright

Andrew Coburn, Author Simon & Schuster $23 (320p) ISBN 978-0-684-81529-9
Fanciful, speculative history makes for dramatic storytelling in this imaginative, often poignant account of the abduction and supposed murder of the Lindbergh baby. Here Bruno Hauptmann (who was in fact convicted and executed on shaky evidence) is only an accessory to the kidnapping and never lays eyes on the child. The actual kidnapper is honest, hardworking ""Shell"" Shellenbach whose disreputable friend Rudy Farber concocts the scheme; in Coburn's telling the baby is never murdered. Shell agrees to Rudy's plan when his mentally fragile wife, Helen, accidentally drops and kills their own baby boy. Hoping to assuage Helen's grief, Shell keeps the Lindbergh child as a replacement, and the couple lovingly raise him as their own son, David. Secrecy and guilt provide their own torments for the adoptive parents, and the son learns his true origins only many years later, when Shell is on his deathbed and David is mounting a campaign for governor of Massachusetts. Coburn (Voices in the Dark) writes in clear, agile prose, rendering Shell as a decent man who must live with the consequences of a monstrous crime. Although Coburn returns to the Lindbergh house sporadically to trace the effects of the kidnapping and reported murder on Charles and Anne, the heart of the novel is Shell and David and the people closest to them who, without knowing it, are touched by David's hidden past. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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