How far will a mother go to protect her child from a sexual predator? What happens when the abuser is the child’s father? What drives the family court system, one that is supposed to provide a safety net for abused children? Protagonist Rachel Belmore is forced to confront these questions head on in Puppet Child (PageFree Publishing, $23.95; $13.95), a new novel by Long Island mom Talia Carner. Carner’s carefully researched, suspense-packed story shows a family court system at its worst and a mother’s desperate battle to save her daughter from the abuse that she has witnessed with her own eyes. Carner wrote Puppet Child after spending hours sitting in New York’s Family Court and listening to the stories women told her through an 800 number she had set up. While Carner is quick to point out that “Puppet Child is a work of suspense fiction meant to enthrall the reader and not a soap box to preach,” the novel does raise questions about the fairness of the system. During her research, Carner gained the cooperation of some of the family court judges. One judge allowed her to borrow files on cases that had been won on appeal. “After reading the files, I could not understand how the judge could rule the way he did. More than once, the judge completely ignored the bond between mother and child,” she says. In the novel, Rachel Belmore has resources — money, a supportive family and friends, and good legal representation. But as we follow Rachel through her gut-wrenching fight to curtail her ex-husband’s visitation rights, we see that even these resources cannot guarantee a victory and that Rachel’s will is often the only thing that is working in her favor. One of the factors that inspired Carner to write Puppet Child was her own experience in Family Court when she went through a divorce many years ago. “The novel is not autobiographical by any stretch of the imagination,” says the author. She explains that her case could have been simpler but ended up stretching on for nearly two years, taking a toll on her children and depleting the savings of her parents, who helped her with legal expenses. The experience left Carner with strong compassion for women who had real issues in their cases but were less fortunate, without financial resources, and without the emotional stamina and support needed to fight the system. The second piece of inspiration for Puppet Child came when its author attended an international women’s conference in Beijing, China, in 1995. There she met a professor from Chicago University, at the conference to talk about women and children who were victims of the legal system. “It was then that I knew I had a story to tell,” Carner says. “I approached the story trying to understand the judge, who is not a villain. He thinks he’s helping the world. He doesn’t mean to do harm. He’s just clueless,” says Carner of the character Judge Robert McGillian. In the novel, McGillian seems to ignore or give little weight to the testimony of experts indicating that the child, Ellie, is being sexually molested when she visits her father. Instead, he prefers to give more credence to the side of the story told by the father, Wes Belmore, a respected surgeon who has many famous and influential patients. Carner believes that many judges “refuse to believe in pedophilia. Many of them are fathers. They tend to believe that mothers plant these ideas in the child’s head,” she says of what she has found from her own observations and research. Puppet Child is not just a courtroom drama. Carner is a masterful storyteller who has crafted a riveting plot that both entertains and brings an important social issue to the forefront. Through rich character development and constant surprises for the reader, Carner explores how Rachel’s ordeal affects the rest of her life. The protagonist is forced to take a lot of time off from her job as an advertising executive at a prestigious women’s magazine, which likely ends up costing her a promotion. She must call on family and friends to help her in ways that seem unthinkable. And, she finds herself in a romantic relationship with a very unlikely suitor. Carner says her research for the book has turned her into an advocate. “I am an advocate for the children who are being given a life sentence without parole.” Carner is the former publisher of Savvy Woman magazine and president and founder of Business Women Marketing Corporation. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The New York Times, the Chocolate for a Woman’s Soul series, and the Cup of Comfort series. Her next novel, China Doll, about a woman trying save a child from an orphanage, will be published in 2004. To read an excerpt from Puppet Child or to contact Talia Carner, visit her website at www.TaliaCarner.com.