People find themselves justifying their actions and motives when it comes to money, power and even in this case what some consider art. But, why would a parent, an owner of an art studio, living in a commune with her five year old daughter, use her as a subject in her photos since the photos are of her child nude. Things seem off kilter when we get to know JJ the mother and wonder why she would subject her child or anyone’s child to this type of exposure. Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, is pulled into the life of Chrissy the child, her mother and the world of photography but not in a positive way. Her fiancé, Frank is a student of JJ and although it appears to be just teacher/student related they seem to have an even closer relationship. Things spiral out of control when a special police task force is formed in order to search for child pedophiles, children who pose for these pictures and adults or even teens that visit many of these sites and collect these types of pictures for their own perversive use. Dot is single, a psychologist working for the Kenilworth Police Department. Chief Pence’s attitude towards her changes on the spur of a moment as they seem to push each other’s buttons, work around each other’s moods and with Frank, her fiancé, close to JJ things get dicey to say the least. Added in Officer Manny, has been asked to head up the task force dealing with child porn and pornography and it’s taking a toll on his life, marriage and his health. But, even when Dot brings this to light to Pence he discounts her worries and claims it’s part of the job and Manny can handle it but can he without breaking apart? Dot is impulsive at times, hardheaded and does not back down no matter who is pulling the strings or who is in charge. When Chrissy is found missing the suspects of course are her parents who are divorced. JJ appears upset on the outside, her ex-husband and his wife Kathryn too, but something about these three seems strange, does not quite ring true as you are not really sure after witnessing the celebration of Chrissy’s life at the commune and you wonder if it was not staged. Many viewers admire JJ’s work as an art form whereas others might consider it child porn and seriously wrong. When Chrissy is kidnapped and then later found dead, the investigation takes many different turns. Dot wonders why Pence asks her to interview the parents hoping she can elicit information that might help in the investigation. Added in Manny Ochoa, the cop assigned to the sex crime team, seems bent on solving the case, has a daughter the same age, and Chrissy’s murder is too close to home. The pictures on the net add to the fury and add fuel to many fires, but Dot realizes that Manny’s life is becoming his work, and his personal life is deteriorating but Pence does not seem to care nor does he show any signs of compassion to anyone. No real evidence comes to light from the crime scene or from the testing done. No fingerprints, no forensic evidence even from the butterfly blanket. Dot is suspicious and questioning Manny and then JJ she learns that someone bought a blanket covered in butterflies at a dollar store and the person might be Chrissy’s stepmother. JJ seems to be in denial, indulges in meditation and immersed in her Buddhist ways reflecting on the definition of the Fifth Reflection the title of this novel. Manny is given two weeks off thanks to Dot’s interference in the investigation and his life making him even more difficult to deal with. Not only that Dot somehow connects the incidents to a landscaper who is no longer in business, sold his car to someone that might be connected to the kidnapping and Kathryn but not before learning that the nanny who he questioned and grilled disappeared. But, Dot and Manny find the landscaper’s truck but the guy who owns it has yet to surface but when bringing the new evidence to Pence, Dot gets ex-out again. Both JJ and Kathryn bought blankets with butterflies but did they buy them at the same dollar store? Manny and Dot do some surveillance, which Pence thwarts again, and this time orders her to stay away. But, you know Dot and she won’t give up until there is justice for a little girl that supposedly died of a heart attack and nothing else. JJ is either a great actress, in denial or just cold-blooded as she seems to dwell on what she calls the positives of her life, moving on with her art work, setting up an exhibit to honor the memory of her daughter and showing little or any signs of real grieving. Added in she does not tell Dot or Manny about the stalkers that her Bucky, had on her tail to keep watch over her making sure she took proper care of Chrissy. So, why didn’t she tell that to the police and who hide the fact she was being tracked? Something about JJ does not ring true. When Chief Pence, Manny and Dot questions her, Kathryn and Bucky you begin to wonder what they are all hiding and why? JJ shows no emotional upset, no feelings and has decided to forgive the killer. The other two are concerned about appearances, work and are too busy and annoyed to deal with this even though a child lost her life.
The plots intertwine as we hear Kathryn, Bucky, his stepbrother and his common law wife all present their own versions of what happened to Chrissy. Kathryn is vain, calculating, self-absorbed and tries to present a picture of love for a child she was jealous of and wanted out of her husband’s life. His stepbrother and his wife, were meth addicts and more and the plan someone created led the to death of a child and they claimed it to be an accident. Manny is stressed while Dot becomes an important part of the investigation. So involved are Manny and Dot that Frank pushes away from her and his wife, Lupe throws him out. Conflicts arise, lives are changed and the end result will surprise readers as author Ellen Kirchman interplays within the plot her own experiences as a police psychologist to help readers understand the motives, characteristics, actions and behaviors of many of the flawed characters within this novel As Dot councils Manny and suggests he gives his marriage another shot what will it cost him to agree to his wife’s terms? When Pence finally has the case solved will he go along with Manny’s request? When Dot finally realizes that she too is flawed, needs some counseling to reconcile what has been haunting her for years, will Frank understand and wait? Why did the nanny leave when considered a suspect and who helped her? Added in Dot enlists the help of her own source Dr. Charles Randall a seriously ill psychiatrist whose insights help her to focus more clearly and see what is past right in front of her. The ending will surprise readers as Dot and Manny uncover a plot so heinous, filled with jealousy, greed, retribution and even revenge as a child’s life is over because of a triangle that had too many edges and points. A murder of a child who was exploited in more ways than one as the question is: Should a mother use her child in nude photos in the name of art? Was Chrissy being used for more than just that? What happens when someone accuses wrongly of child abuse? The end result you won’t believe as Dot and Manny search for answers but will they find their own too as both have to soul search for their own futures. Buddhists have five reflections the fifth one is the one that guides you life: I AM THE OWNER OF MY ACTIONS, HEIR OF MY ACTIONS. WHATEVER ACTIONS I DO GOOD OR EVIL, OF THESE I SHALL BECOME THE HEIR! Spoken by Juliette but did she own up to hers? We are all the owners of our actions, which one of us can say we abide by the FIFTH REFLECTION?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews: MJ Magazine
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