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3.54  ·  Rating details ·  1,473 ratings  ·  271 reviews
A fingerprint expert's investigation of a series of crib deaths leads her back to the mystery of her own childhood.

Lena is a fingerprint expert at a crime lab in the small city of Syracuse, New York, where winters are cold and deep. Suddenly, a series of crib deaths—indistinguishable from SIDS except for the fevered testimony of one distraught mother with connections in hi
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published June 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton Company (first published May 5th 2007)
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Average rating 3.54  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,473 ratings  ·  271 reviews

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May 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book transcends its constituent parts. It is more than a mystery, more than a forensic thriller or police procedural, more than a love story. It is a haunting character study, an exploration of origin and identity.

Lena Dawson is the rare first-person heroine with depth, who is written with such conviction and awareness that her development isn't encumbered by the first-person perspective. She is the lens through which we view a strange, seemingly disjointed flurry of events. Her world view
Jan 10, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A novel of literary suspense that might have done well to tune back the "literary" aspect -- basically a euphemism for a surfeit of twee, self-indulgent writing. It manages, though, to be a good and modestly gripping tale despite the irritation of our having to wade through puddles of the author's literary pretensions.

Lena Dawson is a fingerprints expert with the Syracuse PD. When a rich mother makes a direct plea to her to examine the death, supposedly from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome),
ORIGIN (Police Procedural-Lena Dawson-Syracuse, NY-Cont) – VG
Abu-Jaber, Diana – 1st mystery
WW Norton & Company, 2007, US Hardcover – ISBN:9780393064551
First Sentence: I spot her as soon as I get off the elevator on the fourth floor.
*** Fingerprint expert Lena Dawson possesses a heightened sense of smell and intuitive abilities that help her in her job with the Syracuse Police. She has no knowledge of her natural parents and, while raised by foster parents, as memories causing her to believe she
Marne Wilson
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I don’t usually read this kind of novel, but last spring I read Crescent by the same author, and since this was the only other book of hers our library owns, I decided to take a chance. This was much more than an ordinary thriller about a forensic expert. I identified very strongly with Lena, the eccentric protagonist. As she searches for a baby killer during a Syracuse winter and falls in love with a detective on the same case, Lena has to confront the realities of her own origins as an orphan ...more
Aug 07, 2012 rated it did not like it
After taking two online PSU classes with her, I finally met Diana Abu-Jaber at a book reading, and she seems to be a lot of fun. So I will still seek out any new book Abu-Jaber writes by loyalty and because I just loved “The Language of Baklava.” So, it is with hesitation that I must admit to not liking this book as much as I’d liked her exquisite first book.
This is the (unlikely) story of a forensics fingerprint clerk who finds herself investigating some (unlikely) mysterious crib death, which
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this atmospheric literary mystery. The fascinating main character, Lena Dawson, is a lab tech in snowy, frigid Syracuse, NY, who has an uncanny ability for intuitive leaps of deduction and an exceptional sense of smell. She's also kind of socially out of step with coworkers and the rest of the world. When multiple SIDS cases start coming into the lab and a distraught mother barges in to beg Lena to help, she starts to think that perhaps something suspicious is going on. And, i ...more
T.L. Cooper
Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber entices the reader to think about the role of identity in the world. It’s a beautifully written novel that doesn’t shy away from intense topics. Abu-Jaber creates a main character, Lena, who is hard to know, confusing, and at times even hard to like, but who will entrance the reader. At times her thought process frustrates the reader but always with a purpose. Abu-Jaber weaves a tale around infant deaths, adoption, foster care, and mental illness that entertains the rea ...more
Feb 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: schooly, wishlist
Satisfying for its conformity to my expectations of chick-lit/murder mystery. Fun but occasionally frustratingly facile. Not that it's stupid or poorly written. It's actually original for its damaged/borderline Asbergers-y protagonist. And it was engaging enough to keep me guessing about the "answers" to the crime and the protagonist's origins and how they were connected. Maybe a little too predictable romance-wise, but that part was kind of like a guilty pleasure to the reading. Good ol'fashion ...more
Sep 04, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: ape mothers & upstaters
Chris and I heard the author read from this book on Orcas Island in Washington on our honeymoon this summer. (Yes, Chris is a good husband for going to dorky author readings on his honeymoon. There was also a morning when we went our separate ways to get tours of the Seattle ballpark & public library, respectively. You can guess who went where.) Anyway, this book was interesting to me, since it takes place in Syracuse, NY, otherwise known as "the biggest city in the frigid northlands near where ...more
Oct 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book and looked forward to any free time I could devote to it. Story follows a lab tech who specializes in finger print analysis who is part of the investigative team looking into infant deaths, which have been ruled SIDS but one mother refuses to accept this. I am not one to ruin one's reading experience by telling too much of the plot line. Let me just say that the protagonist, Lena, has an interesting and mystery filled past which influences her commitment to the case. I'd ...more
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
What a departure from the other Abu-Jaber books I've read! THis one was much darker and more bleak, partly because of the story and partly because she insisted on constantly highlighting the cold/snowy/grey/overall awful climate of her hometown of Syracuse. I found that a bit much. Some of the plot was a bit far fetched but it I read through this pretty voraciously. ...more
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
This literary mystery unfolds in wintry Syracuse NY where a baffling string of infant deaths has the community on edge. Lena Dawson, a reclusive fingerprint expert who works in a crime lab, exhibits uncanny intuition when she is allowed to get close to an investigation. She knows she is a little odd and cannot handle reporters at all.

Lena experiences fractured memories of the time before she was three when she lived with a foster family. Her own parents had refused to adopt her leaving a trail
Oct 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars rounded up. This was an excellent read-atmospheric, enigmatic, dreamy. I love the narrator, Lena. She is so real to me, and I loved spending time with her. The writing is beautiful and lush, which is tough to pull off in wintry cold Syracuse, I would imagine. This is a great mysterious portrait of how we come to be, in spite of-or because of- our origins. I loved it. I would have given it 5 stars flat out but for a tiny bit of convolution, and I also feel there was a hanging thread inv ...more
Mar 26, 2010 rated it it was ok
A fingerprint expert in the Syracuse, New York police crime lab, Lena notices a strange rise in the number of crib deaths occurring in and around the city. Though others in the police department, even those she works with in the crime lab, don't believe her theory of a serial baby killer, Lena pursues the evidence with the help of detective Keller Duesky. Her investigation becomes all the more strange when the deaths seem to connect to her own memories of the past spent in the care of an "ape-mo ...more
Christina Ramos
Jun 07, 2011 rated it liked it
I purchased this book because the author was one of my regulars (back when I used to work at a restaurant inside of a book store). I picked it up off the shelf, saw the familiar face and was overcome by curiosity. Afterward I brought it home and it has lain undisturbed on my bookshelf for a couple of years, until just a few days ago. The reason I hadn't picked it up before is because crime/detective novels just aren't my thing. The first chapter or two left me cold as the Syracuse winter during ...more
Jul 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-reviewed
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it
This might be the most dream-like book I have ever read. The sense of being in a dream is so strong throughout the book that I was not sure if we were ever in the real world. Everything is surrounded by a haze or fog and it was very strange. I am still not sure if I liked it or not.
Lena is a fingerprint analyst and extremely good at her job. She becomes involved in a case of babies that have died apparently of SIDS, but the truth is much more sinister. As Lena finds out more about the details of
Ryan Mishap
Nov 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery-crime
A literary, slightly odd, mystery novel involving a fingerprint expert, Lena, and a series of crib deaths. The winter setting in Syracuse, New York aids the chilled atmosphere of the book, and Lena’s oddness, detachment from life around her. This is contrasted with her memories of a mother, possibly an ape, and tropical heat—but she doesn’t know her origins and her foster parents—who never adopted her—won’t say. I told you it was odd, but anyway, Lena doesn’t believe that the infant deaths are ...more
Jun 24, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mysteries, abandoned
I’m sad to say I did not finish this novel by Diana Abu-Jaber, whose other books I’ve really enjoyed. This one… if I’d started off thinking of it as a regular novel rather than a mystery, maybe that would have worked. I think my big problem is dislike of the main character who narrates the story. Lena is a lab tech working in fingerprint forensics – but she’s also psychic & can pick up information about murder cases through smells (really?) and feelings – though my impression of her is that emot ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend many of the reviews already written about this book so I will not try to offer my own deatiled review because I don't think I can do the book justice other than to say I found the main character equal parts fascinating and frustrating. The greatest take-away about the Lena's character is that one's childhood MATTERS. Some pain never ends.

Because I was born in Syracuse I found the book enjoyable simply as a walk down memory lane - savoring the names of streets I remember from m
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was a little skeptical of this book at the beginning. The writing pulled me right in, but the protagonist was a little strange and quite a few of the supporting characters were down-right awful (bad character, not not well written). In the end, the resolution was on-point and erased any concerns I may have had at the beginning. Also, the author's description of winter/early spring in Upstate NY was spot on, took me back to my childhood. ...more
Oct 10, 2018 rated it liked it
I listened to this audiobook. This book was a bit of a roller coaster for me as I was deciding whether I liked it or not. I liked it a first. Lena Dawson is a fingerprint analyst for the police forensics lab in Syracuse. She is a bit odd. Raised by a neurotic foster mother and loving but weak foster dad, Lena believes that she was rescued from the jungle as a small child. She believes she was raised by an ape or gorilla after being in a plane crash. Her foster mother forbids her to ask questions ...more
Caroline Heipp
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I would give this book 3.5 stars, but I can't.

The plot was very interesting. Readers want to discover who the "Blanket Killer" is (if there is one), and where Lena comes from. I never suspected the ending. There are so many characters and possibilities.

I was not fond of all the weather description that Abu-Jaber gave. Pretty much every chapter has a vivid description of the winter scene outside. We get it. It's winter and it's cold with a lot of snow. Unless it somehow enhances the plot or rea
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is my first book review after not picking up a book for some time, so I advise situating my opinion--if you're looking for something relative to this specific genre--at the place of someone who doesn't have much reading reference to form a meaty opinion.

However! I enjoyed the novel "Origin" by Diana Abu-Jaber. I expected this to be more of an intense mystery thriller, but I was instead met with a moderately paced identity story. Without going into too much detail, the main character/narrat
JoLynn Yoder
Jun 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
About half way through this book I wondered what the heck it was actually about. The death of the babies? Finding out about Lena's birth and infant life? Pia's paranoid and self-centered outlook on Lena's life? All of the above. The plot lines were interwoven and carried through to the very end. The baby killer was not anyone who was ever suspected. Lena found out what she believed to be true was not exactly accurate. And Pia did have reasons for some of her actions and reactions, but she is sti ...more
Elizabeth Doerr
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful atmospheric novel about who we are

This book is a murder mystery but much more. The cold OD Syracuse is just on the other side of the rain Forrest as Lena explores her origins. The cold gives way to spring as Lena grows and unfolds while searching for a baby killer and her own baby past. Traveling along with Lena is a pleasure and a surprise. The author pulls you along to a very satisfying conclusion. I’ll be watching for more books by this author.
Michelle Corriveau
May 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
I did not finish this book. I barely made it to the 50 page mark before giving up. This book sells itself as a sort of forensic cop mystery with a lab tech who has a kind of sense about things. Personally, the reason I decided to abandon ship was the outrageous backstory of the main character that they brought up more than once in those first 50 pages. It did not seem to have a point or be related to the main story.
Richard Wagner
Jun 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
OMG, what a mess. i thought the story line would save this, but at every turn the protagonist, unlikable in the extreme and pretty far-fetched too, kept getting in the way of telling the story. the author seemed to go out of her way to muddy the waters and bore her readers to death in the process.
David Nadas
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Here is a book with never a review in the NYT or an author I have heard of, but both deserve to be a Number One Best Seller and very well known. You will feel the cold of winter in Upstate NY and the insecurity of the protagonist–– a forensic scientist of fingerprints–– who seeks to track down the root cause behind a series of SIDS cases while unraveling her own origin. Brilliant, page turning, and a character you will fall in love with. Everything feels real, from the location to the characters ...more
Aug 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
She's an eerily talented forensic scientist...whom everyone treats as if she suffers from a profound TBI...whose mother is a monkey. (not kidding)
The character development would've been more successful if each third grader in the class was allowed to add a random sentence to the class story.
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Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of Life Without A Recipe, Origin, Crescent, Arabian Jazz, and The Language of Baklava. Her writing has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Ms., Salon, Vogue, Gourmet, the New York Times, The Nation, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. She divides her time between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Portland, Oregon.

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“It's a big formless, arctic night, the stars so bright they seem to hiss. I walk with my hands in pockets, arms pressed to my sides. Even in my down parka, the cold is still there. I feel as though my blood is crackling in it, my bones conducting cold like wires. My toes are curled in their boots.” 1 likes
“It’s always better to know. It is. That’s the great thing about being a detective. Information makes you stronger. And if it’s bad news, it makes you even stronger.” 0 likes
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