cover image Nobody's Child

Nobody's Child

Janet Dawson. Ballantine Books, $21 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-449-90976-8

Compassionate and tenacious, Oakland, Calif., PI Jeri Howard makes her fifth appearance (after Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean) in this finely crafted, absorbing adventure. Howard is hired by an alcoholic woman to find out if the body of a young woman recently found in a burned-out home is that of her daughter who had run away three years earlier. Determining that the victim was indeed her client's daughter, the PI also learns that the young woman, who had been living on the streets in Berkeley, had had a young daughter. The client seems uninterested in her grandchild, but the PI feels compelled to search for the little girl. As Christmas approaches, Howard mingles uneasily with the homeless in the cold damp East Bay winter, moving from street markets to a backstage tour of Oakland's historic Paramount Theater as she tracks the murder victim's associations with high-school friends, some kindly ``old hippie'' benefactors and an enigmatic drug dealer. On the way to the satisfying solution, characters trade observations on homelessness, HIV infection and race relations, yet Dawson offers no glib answers in this timely, gentle tale. (Sept.)