In Baker’s (Death of a Prince, 2013, etc.) novel, Marian Reid is a mother determined to gain custody of her autistic son—40 years later.
Marian has secrets, but until her 40th high school reunion, most of those secrets had stayed hidden. She’s the owner of Reid’s Ritzy Rags, a secondhand clothing store in Galveston, Texas, on Ledbetter Street. The store owners on Ledbetter Street are like a family: Eva, who owns Coffee & More across the street, is Marian’s best friend and confidante. Just as Marian and her high school boyfriend, Bryan Mosley, reconnect, her life gets more complicated. Unbeknownst to Bryan, the reason Marian left town the summer before senior year was to have their baby, Robert. Marian’s mother forced her to give him up for adoption. Later, Robert was discovered to have autism and thrust into foster care. Dorothy, Robert’s foster mother and guardian, allowed Marian to visit Robert and build a relationship with him over the years. The courts deemed Dorothy a good caretaker for Robert, but when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Marian must enter into her third custody battle for Robert, now 40 years old. Thanks to Marian’s mother, all of Marian’s past struggles are brought to light during the hearing. But Marian, knowing she understands his needs, is determined to get custody of her son. Baker, a judge, draws from her knowledge of the law as she has in her previous novels but this time moves away from the mystery genre. When Marian can’t rely on her mother or even her old boyfriend, she learns she can rely on the people of Ledbetter Street to support and sustain her. Although Marian is caught up in her own courtroom drama, she takes time to help a young battered woman. Baker introduces the many characters of Ledbetter Street, painting a picture of Galveston’s community of artists and business owners as well as the homeless and downtrodden—a welcome layer to the story despite an already full plot. Those many plot threads cause the book to feel a bit bloated, which distracts from its heartwarming message. Still, punchy writing and a colorful cast of characters rescue the novel.
In a departure from her mystery novels, Baker uses her knowledge of the law to compellingly depict a riveting custody battle.