Lila Shaara’s suspense-filled romantic thriller The Fortune Teller's Daughter is set in a small town filled with conspiracy and fascinating characters. Down-on-his-luck reporter Harry Sterling has lost his job, brother, marriage, and most importantly, his self-esteem. He has taken a job as an instructor in a small college in northern Florida where he hopes to reorganize his life and goals while making some kind of a connection with those he most cares about.
Harry is also supposedly writing a book. The problem is, he doesn’t have any idea what to write about. His first idea comes to him when he becomes involved in a mystery concerning a physicist famous for a discovery in electrical conductivity. This physicist, Charles Ziegart, may have stolen credit for something called the “Ziegart Effect” when in fact it might have been discovered by one of his students. This clue comes to Harry via a strange visit to a fortune teller.
Drunk when he arrives at the home of psychic Josie Dupree, Harry doesn’t make a very good first impression - he throws up on Dupree’s front porch before she can even begin to tell him about his fortune and what some Tarot cards may mean. It also appears to be a bad sign and introduction to Josie’s niece, Maggie Roth. Some think that Maggie is slow or even retarded, and Harry has been warned to stay away from her, yet he believes that Maggie has seen more in him than most and also knows more about the Ziegart mystery. Indeed, Maggie has seen more in the case than she is willing to share. Ziegart and everyone else involved in this mystery, after all, are all dead now.
As the Tarot cards seem to indicate different aspects of Harry’s future - and danger - none seem to make sense to him. Each chapter cleverly integrates an illustration of a particular Tarot card and short poem to introduce it. One is the card of Death, and another has a picture of a tower struck by lightening. Others have odd names meaning nothing to Harry, but Madame Dupree knows that some mean violence and danger.
As finding out the truth in this story becomes Harry’s quest, he comes face to face with one odd or interesting character after another – in addition to Madame Dupree and Maggie Roth, there is also Miss Baby Thorpe. But the most interesting to him remains Maggie, who works as a cook in a diner and has suffered many terrible losses herself. Harry also finds some scandalous associations between the college and the mysterious boondocks and sinkholes of his northern Florida environs. It isn’t just by chance that this information has been a secret for years; with each new clue that Harry turns up comes an increase in danger to him and to those he cares about.
The story overall seems rather improbable and melodramatic, yet something in it catches the reader’s attention just enough that it moves quickly once it gets past the slow beginning. The characters are likable enough, although some have too many annoying tendencies to want to spend much time with them. The sum of all the parts of the narrative elements is an interesting one, although astute readers most likely will figure out the mystery long before the end of the story.