An In Vitro Mystery: Review of Lisa Scottoline’s Most Wanted



I have to admit if Most Wanted had not been selected by the physical book club (as opposed to virtual bookclubs in Goodreads) for our August meeting, I may not have picked up the novel. Now that I did, I am glad I did. Lisa Scottoline’s writing carried me through the book. There were no lagging spots or sections where it appeared that the author had ran out of material and was typing just for page count. Aside from a few spots where either it was hard to tell who was talking or who the character was referencing and a bit of clunky or awkward language (burning red lights), Most Wanted is an engaging medical-legal thriller/mystery. Scottoline’s treatment of the world of in vitro conception, the differences in how sperm and egg donors are treated/checked/etc and the tad bit of the science and the legalities behind the entire process was engaging. It was well-written, narrowly tailored to the absolute minimum and woven into the story through the characters, chiefly the protagonist, Christine. In this way, in vitro fertilization was not a hard topic to understand.

Christine and Marcus Nilsson have wanted a baby for so long and have tried virtually everything before resorting to in vitro fertilization. As it turns out,Marcus shoots blanks. For a man with an ego the size of Manhattan, this is a real downer, and potentially a trap for the Nilsson marriage. When the story opens, Christine is pregnant. Then, all goes awry. On a news special, Christine catches a glimpse of the man she believes to be their sperm donor. It is Zachary Jeffcoat, a man arrested for the murders of three nurses. Zachary is dubbed by the press to be the Nurse Murderer.

This is where Marcus’ ego makes its appearance. Up and until now Marcus seems like a good guy–caring and generally supportive of Christine’s pregnancy. Christine and Marcus debate whether Jeffcoat is the sperm donor, and the implications for their baby if Jeffcoat is a serial killer. It is the age old question of nature versus nurture. Is violence, a predisposition to kill, whatever leads someone to murder inherited though mental illness and the like? A good starting point of this issue is found in Judith Hortsman’s 24 hour write up of your brain’s activities. Christine and Marcus are on opposite sides of the fence, though Christine does wonder if Marcus is correct in wondering if their child will turn out like his biological father.

This fear leads to Christine becoming actively involved in Jeffcoat’s case.Part of Christine’s rationale is to see if she can get Jeffcoat to tell her if he is sperm donor #3319. If he is, then to find out if Jeffcoat is guilty. She finds Jeffcoat a lawyer and becomes the paralegal. By training, Christine is a teacher and so factual investigation is nothing new for her. Without Marcus’ approval, and with a fair amount of deception on her part, Christine persuades Jeffcoat’s crustily attorney to let her hunt down leads, interview witnesses, view the crime scene and in general conduct an investigation. This is where the action is in Most Wanted and Scottoline does not disappoint. There are, like most criminal cases, many twists and turns before the climax and the revelation of whether Jeffcoat is the Nurse Murderer.

In parallel, Christine and Marcus are determined to find out if Jeffcoat is their sperm donor, number 3319, who has by the way elected not to have his identity revealed, for what seems legitimate, and personal, reasons. A lawsuit against the sperm bank is planned, though with Christine’s misgivings, particularly when it appears that her doctor might be sued as well. Having worked in the legal field for ten plus years, I was and remain skeptical of the value of this lawsuit. To me it was a knee jerk response, more to soothe Marcus’ ego. It was his idea. He scouts out the sensational news making attorney, who is renown in his field for medical malpractice, and in particular, sperm bank, cases. Christine goes along to save her marriage though her investigation into Jeffcoat’s case and her obvious attachment to Zachary (a handsome engaging charming Romeo) creates more tension as Marcus becomes jealous and his pride is further wounded. Contracts, such as those entered into by the Nilsson’s and the sperm bank and between the sperm bank and the donor are fairly comprehensive and hard to break. Further, what Marcus complains of–the lack of extensive background checking and psychological testing of donors as well as the revealing of the identity of donors by sperm banks in extenuating circumstances is a creature of statute, a matter for state and federal regulations. It is the work of state legislatures and Congress. Courts are supposed to uphold contracts in the absence of fraud, mutual mistake, or other circumstances not present in the narrative.

As critical as I was of Marcus, Christine is no saint either. She finds out the hard way where deception, lying to those she loves the most, can lead, the harm that deceiving and manipulating people can cause. She is deceived by Jeffcoat, a born salesman with a gift of gab, and others, some close to her. While some of Christine’s deception are white lies, there are others that almost destroy her marriage, while still others almost get others killed, and put her in the path of a murderer. Still, Christine wants her baby, and does what mothers do–seek to protect to their children–at all costs. And, Christine is the typical pregnant lady, hormones and all.