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Bantwal (The Dowry Bride) shifts her focus from arranged marriages to the high stakes parents place on producing a male heir in contemporary India in her middling sophomore outing. Isha Tilak and her husband, Nikhil, are counting on their second child to be a son. But when an ultrasound reveals she's carrying a girl, an illegal abortion is proposed, both by Nikhil's wealthy parents and by Isha's physician, Dr. Karnik. Nikhil staunchly refuses and soon turns up dead, and Isha can't help wondering if he may have been killed for not going along with the abortion. Unfortunately, the dialogue is often flat and didactic ( "Did you know that a conservative estimate puts anywhere between eight and ten million girls as either aborted or killed in infancy in the last two decades?"), and the narrative shifts too late from ponderous exposition to almost page-turning suspense as Isha tries to determine who was involved in Nikhil's murder. Less time on the soapbox and more time getting into the heads of the characters would have helped. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.