Nobody’s Child by Janet Dawson

Nobody's Child by Janet Dawson

1st July 2021.

In this fifth outing in the series, Oakland private investigator, Jeri Howard, takes on her most difficult case and client. Naomi Smith, an emotionless alcoholic, believes the body found buried on a building site is her daughter, Maureen, who has disappeared.

When Jeri finds out Maureen was pregnant, the investigation turns to finding the girl. But with her mother dead, it’s going to be anything but straightforward.

You always get so much more than a murder investigation with Jeri Howard, as she tackles social issues along the way. This is 1995 and her investigations take her into the homeless community, which has become a major challenge for California. People are sleeping rough, being attacked and dying. HIV and AIDS is a growing problem that’s getting out of control.

With dogged determination, Jeri slowly pieces together Maureen’s movements over the past 18 months, uncovering lies, deceit and acts of kindness that help her piece together what happened to both mother and child.

The detail and issues surrounding homeless people is vividly brought to life through the characters Jeri encounters, providing an often moving and troublesome backdrop to the main investigation. Without ducking the issues or taking sides, the author paints some very vivid pictures.

But ultimately, this is a murder investigation, and a very satisfying one after a torturous investigation.

This is a complex and compelling read that covers a lot of ground, but it’s well worth the effort.


It’s Christmas in San Francisco, and stalwart Bay Area PI Jeri Howard is having a tough time locating her holiday cheer. Maybe it’s her recent birthday. 34’s no 44, but it’s not 24 either. Maybe it’s seasonal depression. The incessant, chilly northern California rain isn’t exactly helping. And neither is the flu. Plus, there’s the investigating business.

Jeri’s most recent all-absorbing puzzler happens to revolve around her prickliest client to date: Naomi Smith is a well-to-do woman from Piedmont—she’s rich, slender to the point of emaciation, and her cold, hard stare yields no secrets. Her voice doesn’t yield much either—truth to tell, working with Naomi is like squeezing blood from a stone.

Basically, she’s the most disagreeable woman—and possibly most aggravating client—Jeri’s ever met, let alone worked with. But you can’t be picky when you’re writing checks to cover groceries.

Ms. Smith wants Jeri to look into the details surrounding the decomposing corpse of a young woman recently uncovered by a couple of construction workers in an Oakland fire zone. Deadpan, Naomi suggests the Jane Doe might be her long-lost daughter Maureen—and she wants Jeri to investigate (in the name of family discretion).

Maureen would be twenty-one years old. She ran away from her well-ordered life just three months before she was due to graduate from high school. And her mother hasn’t heard from her for a full month—but why she hasn’t gone to the authorities is a mystery.

Also vanished into thin air: Maureen’s now-2-year-old daughter, Dyese, and Naomi’s latest beau, Professor Douglas Widener, who disappeared after a romantic weekend getaway to Lake Tahoe—at just about the same time as Naomi’s daughter. Has Maureen run away to follow a man? Perhaps a much older man? Or has she been abused? And if she was murdered, has her toddler been murdered too?

Jeri finds herself delving into a bizarre and heart-wrenching cold case, uncovering social injustice and family secrets so bleak even Christmas can’t snap her out of it.

Nobody's Child by Janet Dawson

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