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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 high places—draws the attention of the police and the national media and raises the possibility of the inconceivable: could there be a serial infant murderer on the loose?

Orphaned as a child, out of place as an adult, gifted with delicate and terrifying powers of intuition, Lena finds herself playing a critical role in the case. But then there is the mystery of her own childhood to solve....Could the improbable deaths of a half-dozen babies be somehow connected to her own improbable survival?

The beauty and originality of Diana Abu-Jaber's writing are here accompanied by deft, page-turning narrative tension and atmosphere, tugging the reader to an unforgettable conclusion.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published May 5, 2007

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About the author

Diana Abu-Jaber

16 books389 followers
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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5 stars
254 (16%)
4 stars
609 (39%)
3 stars
481 (30%)
2 stars
163 (10%)
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52 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 284 reviews
Profile Image for Meredith.
83 reviews6 followers
December 26, 2014
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 is not like ours--she has constructed a past with which she can cope, drawing upon sensory experience and disjointed shards of memory.

Diana Abu-Jaber knows how to haunt a reader. She knows how to forge bonds between characters that are simultaneously poignant and realistic. It is quite a feat to write literature that is so innately personal without ever allowing it to become maudlin.
Profile Image for John.
Author 339 books166 followers
January 12, 2016
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), of her baby, Lena ignores the advice of her colleagues and takes a closer look. Soon she has uncovered the existence of a serial killer, one who's targeting infants in their cribs. In investigating the case, Lena is forced to confront the mysteries of her own origins . . .

Leaving aside some linguistic oddities (Lena feels "shocky" at one point; people "wick" their fingers, which I think means they crook them), there are a couple of plot oddities. For example, at one point the investigators manage to miss "a small wooden chest . . . about two feet high and three feet long" in the nursery of one of the kids, seemingly on the grounds that it's painted "nearly the same shade of blue as the walls." Investigating cops who search a room are unlikely to miss a grain of dust, let alone a wooden chest.

As for the "literary" writing? Well, here's Lena on a bus, suffering a minor headache from the cold of a wintry day in Syracuse:
There's a pain in the upper right quadrant of my head, jangling, radiating into my right jawbone and pressing on my molars, and a misplaced smell of disinfectant rises from the seat backs.

And here's Lena having a good time in bed:
But then it's all right, because we're alone and naked on the bed with its flannel sheets. My sense of smell roars in my head and when Keller pushes -- slowly, insistently -- inside of me, it's as if we are sinking together two inches beneath the water, bobbing. The feelings are so different from what I experienced with Charlie, it's as if my own body is changing: I breathe water and grow gills. My hands and feet are distended, my toes curl, my lips and nipples turn orange, my eyes are webbed, golden scales spring up and shimmer over my body.

As I say, despite everything the book did succeed in holding my attention, and I was genuinely interested to find out what happened to Lena. The serial killer is quite unlike any I can remember coming across in fiction -- in fact, I hesitated about using the term "serial killer" in case it might be misleading -- so full marks to the author for this piece of originality. Overall, then, a book that I'd recommend despite its many annoyances.
Profile Image for LJ.
3,159 reviews311 followers
August 7, 2007
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 was raised by a great ape in a jungle. A grieving mother asks Lena to look into the death of her infant daughter who allegedly died of SIDs but the mother believes it was murder. When Lena finds the number of SIDs deaths is unnaturally high, her investigation leads her on the path of a killer and her own past.
*** This was a different and very intriguing book with the protagonist uncovering the truth behind the deaths of infants which leads her to uncovering her own past. It took me awhile to get into the character. I found her fascinating but disquieting at the same time. I liked her; I was annoyed with her--I was thoroughly intrigued by her and by the story. At the same time, there is more here than just Lena. The information on fingerprints was fascinating and Lena’s heightened sense of smell allowed aspects to the story that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Add to everything Syracuse in winter and you’ll find this isn’t your normal suspense, but it has a haunting element that stays with you.
Profile Image for Marne Wilson.
Author 2 books40 followers
March 28, 2020
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 orphaned foster child. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Profile Image for Elusive.Mystery.
486 reviews7 followers
August 8, 2012
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 turns out to be (unlikely) murders. During the course of her investigation, she proceeds to uncover some (unlikely) details of her (unlikely) past history. The premise of the book is essentially that as the heroine goes deeper into the motivations of the (unlikely) killer, she goes deeper into her past and explores her own memories, values, and ideas about childhood.
It’s just that the premise set at the start of the book is so far-fetched (unlikely) that I had a difficult time accepting it: the child was allegedly saved by a troop of primates who taught her to communicate in “monkey” language until she was rescued by humans at age three. Right. [Insert suspension of disbelief here]. The question is whether we are who we are because of our formative memories, or do we make ourselves from scratch and learn as we go? We find out as the book progresses, that things are not the way the heroine recalls them etc., but, really, it just remains unbelievable.
I really had to push myself to keep on reading, especially the heroine’s delirious rants when she gets poisoned with some (unlikely) substance I can’t remember anymore, which were like a classic plot cop-out, “Then I woke up and it was all in a dream.”
Also, the story takes place in Syracuse, New York, which the reader will quickly understand to be an ugly, cold, awful place to be, since snow is mentioned many, many time: snow falling, drifting, blowing, etc. Then, the cold weather, people freezing, and here comes the cold weather again. Yes, we got it; the message is loud and clear: Syracuse is an unpleasant place, a place no one should never want to visit.
Profile Image for Annmarie.
343 reviews13 followers
December 16, 2015
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, it may be connected to her own past as a difficult foster child with strange memories of the jungle and apes. The story of her investigation into the babies' deaths and her own origin is riveting; the depiction of the frigid weather adds to the dark, suspenseful mood. I became so involved with Lena's story and wanting the mysteries explained that I couldn't put the book down. Abu Jaber is a great writer.
Profile Image for T.L. Cooper.
Author 11 books45 followers
November 5, 2010
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 reader while pushing the reader to step outside the accepted sociological mindset. The ending leaves a few unanswered questions leaving the reader to wonder if Abu-Jaber plans subsequent novels about Lena. Origin is a well written, engaging tale that is both fantastical and all too real at times.

Profile Image for Tori.
1,113 reviews86 followers
February 19, 2011
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'fashioned heightening of melodrama.

It's more mentally engaging if you try to think about the implications of its female author also having an Arab-American identity. And publishing this book after 9/11. Like how there might be commentary on "de-realization" of Arab-Americans in the look into her origins (plane crash, jungle, adoption...) and the essentialization/hysteria of all crime being "terrorism" after 9/11. Or how maybe it's just a struggle to assert her humanity/regular-person-ness by publishing something so blandly genre-conforming.
Profile Image for Melissa.
802 reviews
September 9, 2007
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 I hail from and also where we went to the mall."

It was very cool to keep seeing tiny details about upstate New York throughout this book (there was even a delicious coney! if only there had been salt potatoes). I wasn't particularly in love with the plot, but I'm not much of a mystery/police procedural reader in general. I would pick this up if you grew up or live in the Syracuse area or if you like a slightly off-kilter, quietly suspenseful mystery.
Profile Image for Christina.
61 reviews
October 28, 2009
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 recommend this to anyone who likes mysteries and stories with twists and puzzles. She is a unique heroine but I found myself urging her on in her quest for answers.
384 reviews7 followers
July 9, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Gloria.
2,091 reviews38 followers
September 19, 2020
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 of hurt. In this town of toxic secrets, there seems to be link between the current spree of baby deaths and Lena's own birth.

This is deliciously slow moving, with little revelations along the way. Those who love forensic stories will love this; those who love characters who are mildly socially dysfunctional will love this, too. There is an interesting cast of characters, a deepening plot, and moving correlations between memory and reality. Have wanted to read this author for a long time, and am really delighted to have 'discovered' her.
Profile Image for Paul Pessolano.
1,348 reviews39 followers
July 18, 2022
Lena knows she has been adopted and has dreams of a forest and a gorilla mother. Her adopted parents will not tell her of her biological parents. She lives with the recurring memory of a plane crash and being adopted by a gorilla mother.

In later life she has basically stayed away from her adopted parents, has become a fingerprint expert and been through a not so good marriage. She was responsible for solving a difficult case and finds herself on another one. There are a string of so-called SIDS deaths and she becomes engrossed in them and is also faced with finding her “ORIGIN”.

A mystery that will keep you guessing until the end with a smattering of romance, parental responsibility, and leaves one wondering about our adoption process.
Profile Image for Debbie.
556 reviews94 followers
October 15, 2020
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 involving the estranged husband.
Profile Image for Serah J Blain.
68 reviews1 follower
May 28, 2023
This is a pretty unique literary thriller -- a murder mystery wrapped in an unusual story of self discovery. The protagonist is one-of-a-kind; I've never met a character quite like her, certainly not in a whodunnit. Perhaps a little neurospicy, Lena's heightened senses border on magical realism as she leads us through a weird, creepy, compelling story. The murder mystery bit was, for me, the least interesting, but Lena's character is just fascinating to follow. I'd love a sequel to this!
Profile Image for Linda.
53 reviews2 followers
February 26, 2017
Ergens tussen de 3 en 4 sterren. Het duurde voor mij even voor ik erin zat, want er worden nogal wat dingen bijgehaald en dat maakt dat ik er lastig inkwam. Maar toen ik eenmaal in het verhaal zat moest hij ook in 1 ruk uit, dus zou ik hem toch aanraden
Author 1 book18 followers
March 26, 2010
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-mother" in the rain forest. Soon, hunter becomes the hunted, as the killer has the need to eliminate Lena, not to stop the investigation, but to stop Lena from investigating her own past.[return]Although an interesting plot, it lacked characters that could be identified with. Lena in particular seemed withdrawn from the reader in a way that, although I read her story, I didn't really feel anything for her. The supporting characters all seemed like a group of whack jobs, from the people in Lena's apartment building to everyone she worked with, to her soon to be ex-husband (but then, what else would you expect from a fictional ex?).[return]The writing was occasionally filled with too many metaphors and similes that were a stretch, or just didn't make sense. Abu-Jaber frequently put so many similes out there, I found myself counting them. [return]Lena's strange, Tarzanic memories of the past, made the first half of the novel an almost unbelievable story. It felt as though I was reading something from Edgar Rice Burroughs, but at least he explained Tarzan's origins in a way that was believable. Ultimately, the "ape-mother" story line was explained somewhat satisfactorily.[return]Readable, but not instantly engaging. Sterile settings, and unsympathetic characters- yet, the one thing that ultimately saves the book and compelled me to finish was the story itself.
Profile Image for Christina Ramos.
14 reviews5 followers
June 8, 2011
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 which the story takes place. A fingerprint analyst begins to work on a series of suspicious crib deaths which may or may not turn out to be SIDS. (You know it's not, otherwise there would be no book in it, but it takes the characters a little more time to figure it out). Meanwhile, this same analyst is forced to confront the mystery of her own past which once again comes back to haunt her. Are the two mysteries linked?
It's a good thing I plodded on through the first couple of chapters because as the characters and stories began to develop it actually got quite interesting. There were times when I really wanted to know what happened next; I was late to work once though only down the street because I wanted to finish a chapter, I made myself carsick today because I didn't want to stop...
I would give the book 3.5 stars if I could. The only reasons I didn't give it more is because 4 and 5 star books are ones I would really recommend to friends and unless I knew without a doubt that someone was into detective novels I wouldn't. However, if you ARE into detective novels then you should check it out.
65 reviews4 followers
June 23, 2016
The ending was good, there was a lot of stuff that could have been left out, which made the book drag at times. I liked that it took place in Syracuse and used actual places and streets that I know where they are. There were somethings that were wrong though, which was mostly overlookable. Lena, the main character, had horrible interpersonal skills, probably a result of thinking you were raised by monkeys in the rain forest. She also was a little slow on the uptake at times, for supposedly being this highly intuitive person. Her ex-husband seems to be emotionally abusive, cheating on her during their marriage then wanting to get back together when she starts seeing another guy, insulting him, getting in a fight with him, and even making her feel guilty about being friends with him. At one point, ex-husband shows up at new friend's house, in his uniform and squad car, drunk off his ass. When he's driving away, he skids out, ending up in a neighbors yard, and just drives away from the scene. I'm pretty sure that would get him in trouble, but I could be wrong.

I hated reading her interactions with New Guy, who really liked her, and she was just kind of strung him along. She moved in with the guy even though she didn't really want to have a relationship with him at that time, although they do eventually end up together. Her foster mother is flighty and thinks that just because she doesn't talk about something it goes away, which drove me crazy, then she got upset whenever Lena went behind her back to try to find something out.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone from Syracuse, and maybe anyone who likes mysteries.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Okenwillow.
871 reviews144 followers
August 15, 2022
Origine est un thriller principalement axé sur la psychologie de la narratrice, Lena, une jeune femme à la personnalité complexe et torturée. Son personnage est particulièrement intéressant, elle nous plonge dans l’enquête de manière totalement immersive. Le style est excellent, l’écriture est fouillée, travaillée, le rythme peut surprendre, notamment lors des dialogues, très souvent entrecoupés par les réflexions personnelles de Lena. Ses impressions parsèment le récit, on pourrait presque qualifier ce thriller d’introspectif, bien que je n’aime pas trop ce mot. Le passé de Lena est pesant, ne connaissant pas ses origines et ayant nourri sa propre interprétation de ses rares souvenirs, elle a du se construire avec des lacunes et des zones d’ombres. Ses relations avec ses parents adoptifs sont ambigus, de même que celle avec son ex-mari. L’enquête sur laquelle sa profession l’amène à intervenir va la plonger dans le mystère de ses origines, la pousser à agir différemment, à remettre en question son rapport aux autres, à se découvrir.
L’intrigue elle-même est bien traitée, même si le suspens n’est plus à son comble assez vite, elle n’en reste pas moins passionnante, malgré l’importance du personnage de Lena et de son cheminement intérieur. Le final ne manque pas d’émotion, on empathise totalement avec Lena. Un thriller au rythme singulier, ni sanglant ni spectaculaire, mais tout en nuances et en humanité. Un excellent roman, intelligent et superbement écrit.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
502 reviews12 followers
June 2, 2012
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 this mystery, she is led into her own past and the question of her identity- specifically, why her foster parents who raised her never adopted her.
Another interesting/strange quality of this book is the weather, which can be arguably be a character in itself. The Syracuse winter is so bitter, harsh, cruel, and unrelenting that it certainly made this reader never want to visit or live anywhere close to Syracuse!
If I sound undecided about this book, it is because I am..........the plot is extremely intriguing and kept my interest, but the aura and overall feeling of the book is very distant, foggy, and COLD! I never warmed up to it physically or emotionally. Also, I am personally not a big reader of mysteries. Fans of mystery will probably love this, but it just isn't my favorite genre. That being said, I am glad to have read it.
Profile Image for Ryan Mishap.
3,397 reviews63 followers
February 5, 2009
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 SIDS, but that someone is killing the babies.
A grieving mother forms a group to pressure the police and politicians, and the ensuing media frenzy is a perfect example of fear-driven media spectacles—the word terrorists is suddenly up front and center. Lena tries to prove her theory while remembering her married life, exploring the possibility of a new relationship, dealing with the mentally ill former professor who lives in her building, and more. There’s a lot going on, yes, but the pace of the book never seems rushed, more elegiac. I liked it.
Profile Image for Marigold.
742 reviews
June 24, 2009
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 emotionally she’s practically catatonic. Oh, and she was also raised by apes so she’s kind of struggling with that. Oh, and she wanders around in the snow a lot. She has a lot of less than supportive coworkers (yawn). She has a controlling ex-husband/bad cop (double yawn) & a nice potential boyfriend/good cop. Somewhere in here (and I got just over halfway through the book before giving up) there may be a mystery about some SIDS deaths. But really, I just didn’t care.
Profile Image for Susan.
431 reviews
May 29, 2015
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 my childhood. The miserable Syracuse winter weather was almost another character - so brooding and inescapable.

The realistic details about the city and the weather helped make the story feel real while other parts of the story describing the thoughts and sensations of the main character were difficult to decipher as real or not.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
71 reviews2 followers
February 15, 2011
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.
397 reviews4 followers
July 10, 2022
Disappointed readers will be produced in spades by Origin, a mystery novel by author Diana Abu-Jaber.

The book centers around an investigation into a string of mysterious, SIDS-like deaths in the Syracuse area. Lena Dawson is the main character, drawn into the mix when she is contacted by Erin Cogan, mother to one of the deceased children. A fingerprint analyst and investigator with the local police department, Lena’s ongoing psychological battles with her own problematic childhood form the novel’s second linchpin. She is undoubtedly the most well fleshed out character in Origin, and abu-Jaber did nice work examining the nooks and crannies of this complex individual.

The origin story Lena has been told about her early years (that she was raised in a rainforest by an ape before being rescued), however, is so laughable that readers will have a hard time believing that anyone, Lena or anyone else, could possibly believe it as adults.

And the ape angle is not Origin’s only shortcoming. Main character aside, the book is otherwise populated by stereotypical characters with predictable, cardboard personalities.

Lena’s co-workers Alyce, Sylvie and Margo are in forgettable scenes replete with formulaic dialogue; their lack of dimension was a tremendous disservice to Origin's plot. Opal, a nurse at the hospital where Lena has to stay overnight, is also written lazily and seems to be lackadaisically inserted into the novel. Lena’s estranged husband, Charlie, is a police officer and seemingly such a horrid person with a lack of redeeming traits that he becomes almost impossible to believe as a character.

Love interest Keller Duseky is probably the second best character in the book in terms of depth, although he comes in a distant second behind Lena. None of these poorly written characters are redeemed by the often clunky writing style, one which seemed to indicate a lack of strong editorship before the book’s publishing.

These are several drawbacks which mar Origin, but they are not the full list. Lena’s extra-sensory ability when it comes to cracking the code of crime scenes is almost laughably written about, and her willingness to hemorrhage proprietary information about crucial elements of a criminal case just simply does not make for credible writing.

Is every aspect of the book terrible? Not all.

The atmosphere of Syracuse is well-established, locations written about by an author who clearly knows the area well. She is knowledgeable about Syracuse and she evinces a strong sense of place when the novel describes this post-industrial college town on the shores of Lake Onondaga. This is a credit to an otherwise disappointing novel. Upstate New York in the winter has to have a certain feel, and it seems as if abu-Jaber effectively captured this in her writing.

Potential readers would be well-advised to steer clear of this book. There are plenty of mysteries worth taking the time to check out, books with strong story line, great dialogue, and characters which readers can come to feel they intimately know.

Origin, however, is not one of those books.

-Andrew Canfield Denver, Colorado
Profile Image for Peggy.
1,191 reviews
October 10, 2018
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 about her past, so Lena has only murky memories. She is reclusive and doesn't make friends easily. She is separated from her bombastic husband, a cop who dominates her emotionally but is unfaithful to her. When a wealthy, distraught mother of a baby who dies of sudden infant death syndrome insists on more investigation, Lena is drawn into the case. The middle of the book lost me for a while. Lena's personal life and anxiety gets a little tedious as she helps search for clues in several recent infant deaths. When it seems Lena's past is somehow the center of the current deaths it loses me for a while. But, as the story continues it gets more compelling. Lena zeroes in on the answers not only for the grieving parents, but also answers about her own beginnings. A bit far fetched, but still interesting, overall this was a good listen.
Profile Image for Caroline Heipp.
9 reviews1 follower
August 27, 2017
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 reader's vision (which in this case it doesn't) it is unnecessary.

I was also hoping for some more closure on the Charlie situation. He sort of just disappears after stopping by the hospital to see Lena, when he was kind of a lead character for at least the first half of the story. Additionally, I would have liked to know Frank and Alyce's reaction to the real case solution (especially Alyce's, since she put up such a stink).

Overall, a good book. I really started getting into the second half. Definitely a page turner!
Profile Image for Marq.
3 reviews1 follower
November 7, 2019
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/narrator has identity issues that are developed and explored alongside a murder mystery involving sudden cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

My advice before delving into this novel: try to keep an open mind. Lena Dawson (the main character), is described as someone who is more in tuned with their animal-like instincts--sort of a sixth-sense, if you will. As a result, the way she arrives at certain conclusions...are quite hard to believe, but not entirely unlikely. That being said, the book was a lovely read. I recommend!
Profile Image for Christina.
Author 47 books170 followers
September 24, 2022
Not Diana Abu-Jaber's best. The mystery wasn't too involved and was predictable. It took too long to get into and then had some decent twists and a herring colored bright red but the plot was ultimately predictable. I also didn't find the reporter episode credible, nor the fact that the detective and the MC seemed to be able to do what they wanted all the time, nor her belief that she was in a rainforest with gorillas as an infant. If a plane had crashed in Africa and an infant later rescued from the jungle, there would be tons of news stories about it. The final reveal came a too easily. I'm a big fan of Abu-Jaber's lyrical prose, but in this book it seemed forced, contrived and excessive. Some real clunker metaphors and similes that sometimes carried on for a paragraph. The characters were not very likeable. I'm glad to see Abu-Jaber went back to straight literary fiction.
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