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A DANGEROUS FICTION
by Barbara Rogan
Viking, July 2013
336 pages
$26.95
ISBN: 0670026506


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Barbara Rogan, now an author and writing teacher, was at one time an editor and then founder of her own literary agency in Israel. She knows the publishing business intimately. Jo Donovan, the protagonist of Rogan's new crime novel, reflects Rogan's own work experience. She is the young widow of a prominent novelist, many years her senior, who died suddenly three years previously. Since his death, Jo has devoted herself to two projects - successfully managing the literary agency she heads and polishing the image of her departed spouse and of the perfection of their marriage.

Almost immediately, both projects are under serious threat and presumably, so is Jo. A disgruntled author whose utterly terrible manuscript has been summarily rejected by the first reader turns stalker, convinced that Jo is destined to be his muse and help him uncover his true genius. He is first seen as one of the costs of the publishing trade but then the agency is the target of "pranks" that have the potential to destroy its credibility in the industry. And much worse is to come as some closest to Jo are murdered and the phrase "Can you hear me now?" is daubed on the wall in the victim's blood.

And then there is the question of her marriage to the literary giant. In Jo's memory, the union was an idyll, one in which the formerly notoriously womanizing Hugo had decided in late middle age to reform and settle down with his fourth and final wife, the twenty-two-year-old Jo who served both as his shield and his muse. During their ten-year marriage, Hugo produced his very best work, thanks in large part to the steadying influence that Jo provided. But now Jo's very recollections are under attack as a dogged and talented biographer is determined to call them into question.

What unfolds is a fairly conventional mystery with a strong suspense component and a sufficiently various cast of characters to puzzle the reader for quite a long way into the narrative. One of Rogan's strengths is her ability to invent interesting and individual characters while largely avoiding cliches. Jo herself is very far from an idealized victim/heroine. She has serious flaws, especially when it comes to her memories of Hugo, that lend a useful dose of uncertainty to her first-person narration. Others in Jo's circle are similarly multi-dimensional, which means that Jo finds she cannot absolutely trust any of them, no matter how much she might want to.

Rogan has been in the publishing business a long time, and A DANGEROUS FICTION has its share of commercially-driven elements. First, there's the non-prologue prologue - the trailer designed to hook the bookstore browser. It's a device that always gives me a creepy feeling of deja vu when the same matter turns up word for word a hundred or so pages later. Then there's the wonderful, if a bit arbitrary, guard dog named for a jazz musician, several gorgeous men who would love to relieve Jo of her loneliness, and the gay men who, now married, have become the parents of a baby girl. But along with the feel-good bits, there is a insider's look at what goes on at a literary agency and at where and how book deals are concluded that is considerably less upbeat.

A DANGEROUS FICTION occupies that very happy ground midway between the formula cosy and the deadly serious and darkly pessimistic suspense thriller. Readers who take this one to the beach should find themselves engaged, entertained, and enlightened. And some readers who may long have wondered will now know precisely what indeed does go on at a monthly slush-pile meeting very much like the one that decided the fate of their own manuscript.

Rogan has been quoted as saying she has plans for at least two more novels involving Jo Donovan and one can only hope she's as good as her word.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, July 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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