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Three and one half moon gifSt. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunn Books (Hardcover) ISBN: 0312262442
Unnatural Causes, Janet Bettle's first legal thriller, will leave you with two things. First, the book leaves you with satisfaction of a thoroughly enjoyable read. Second, it will reinforce every inclination you ever cherished of becoming a vegetarian -- or make you thankful you already gave up eating meat. 

Book: Janet Bettle, Unnatural CausesThe level of realism reflects not only strong research but the author's own experience as a practicing barrister in East Anglia. Her protagonist, Geri Lander, greets readers as a fully developed character wearing several hats. Geri struggles as a female lawyer in a man's world as well as a lawyer fighting for justice and worthy causes in a profit-hungry arena.  

Geri, a recent widow and now single parent, grieves for her husband, Simon, who until his untimely death, served as senior partner of Landers, Ross and Company. She strives to preserve his law firm and continue to uphold Simon's wishes. Geri also worries about her son Rory. She fights desperately to give him the stable home and support he needs after the loss of his father. In addition, she must deal with the law partner from hell, a true villain you'll love to hate.  

The author writes flaws into her characters and uses those flaws to advance the story. Yet whatever weaknesses, Geri determinedly fights to overcome the odds against her as she takes on a controversial food poisoning case for a fellow widow, Joanna Pascoe. The two women work together to take on the government and perhaps save their fellow citizens from disease and death. Unknowingly, Geri attracts the ire of another exemplary villain who stops at nothing to get what he wants.  

Bettle juggles several story lines, separating them into sections, then interweaving them as they coincide. I admire her use of every aspect of the story, not just throwing in a kid here to make Geri a mother, or a widow there for sympathy. No gratuitous kids here. Rory, an intelligent 11-year-old with access to the Internet, contributes to the success of the case while showing his mother that he is responsible and dependable. The author introduces an influential character, Professor Dermot Lebrun, through Rory.  

This book's appeal owes much to the writing style and the author's fresh, contemporary voice. Pacing moves along just quickly enough to keep up the suspense, and slow enough for me to make sense of the story and details. I enjoyed learning more about the life of a barrister/lawyer as well as the court procedures and the problems of livestock and antibiotics. A pleasure to read, Janet Bettle's debut novel makes me look forward to more of her work.  

Dawn Goldsmith

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