Author: Karen Harrington
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the author
First line: I stared at my attorney as he began his defense that I did not share the blame in the murder of my son.
I have been reading Karen Harrington’s blog for a while now, and when I entered to win a review copy of her book, I had had it on my wish list for a while. I was fascinated by the concept of a book exploring a woman’s DNA, trying to discover what would make her kill her own child. After the book arrived in the mail, however, it found a spot on my to-review shelf, and sat there. I wanted to read it, but I was also reluctant. The stories in the news of women who murder their children are chilling, and make me physically ill. Would reading this book have the same result?
Fortunately, I got over my hesitance and picked up the book two days ago. I was immediately hooked, and while the subject matter is disturbing, the way Ms. Harrington chose to tell the story distances the reader a bit from the crime itself – not enough to make reading the story an unemotional experience, but enough that loving parents could read it and not be too horrified to continue.
Tom Nelson finds himself on trial, accused of being complicit in his wife’s murder of their toddler son. “Failure to protect” is the charge, and Tom faces up to five years in prison if convicted, five years that would take him away from his surviving child, Sarah. Since the day his wife snapped and drowned Sarah’s twin, Simon, Tom has descended into alcohol-fueled grief and guilt. When he is charged, Tom can’t help but wonder if he doesn’t deserve to share some of the blame. Had he missed something in Jane’s demeanor and behavior, some clue, that if he had caught it, could have prevented his son’s death?
Tom is approached by Dave, a defense attorney with an unusual idea for Tom’s defense. Dave intends to prove that violence and murder were hard-wired into Jane’s DNA and flourished because of a dysfunctional childhood, that her past and even the experiences of her ancestors have combined with deadly results. Dave introduces Tom to Mariah, a psychic with the gift of retro-cognition, the ability to read a person’s past from the objects and possessions they owned and handled. Tom is initially skeptical, but as Mariah leads him through the stories of Jane’s mother and father, and grand-parents, he can’t help but begin to believe in Mariah’s gift. Will the things she discovers be enough to prove Tom’s innocence to a jury? Or to himself?
As Mariah reveals the histories of Jane’s family members, I became fascinated by their stories, by the way that violence and deception and parental neglect seemed to be handed down from one generation to the next, an evil inheritance from which there was no escape. Like Tom, I shook my head at the idea of retro-cognition – outside the world of the book, I still find it far-fetched – but while inside Tom’s head and hearing Mariah relate the various stories, I came to believe in Mariah’s gift along with him.
Ms. Harrington chose to leave part of the ending ambiguous. I don’t want to give anything away, but if any of you have read Janeology, I would love to discuss the ending with you in the comments. At first, I was bothered by this choice, but after reading the epilogue and thinking about it last night when I went to bed, I actually think it was a good choice – it kept the focus of the book on the possible causes and reasons for Jane’s crime. On Ms. Harrington’s web site, she mentions that she is now working on a book that will tell the story of how Sarah grew up in the wake of her mother’s murder of her twin brother. I will definitely be reading that book when it comes out.
(Disclosure: Janeology was provided to me by the author for the purpose of review. Many of the links on my site are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)