Book Review: Janeology by Karen Harrington

Title: Janeology
Author: Karen Harrington
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Kunati
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.)

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12 Responses to Book Review: Janeology by Karen Harrington

  1. Karen H.
    Twitter: Karenzwriter


    Thanks so much for this terrific review. Glad you enjoyed the book and thanks for mentioning the follow up about Jane’s daughter Sarah. That book is very near to be finished. 🙂


    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Karen – glad to hear it won’t be too long of a wait for Sarah’s story!

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while. It sounds like it’s thought provoking!

  3. Sandra says:

    I read “Janeology” shortly after it was published. Then my husband read it. Then, based on my recommendation, my friends read it. Harrington truly has an original voice, and her well-crafted storytelling (Elizabeth Berg comes to mind) leaves a reader wanting more. Good to hear that a sequel is coming soon; I’ll be looking for it!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sandra – it is definitely a great read – and would be a fantastic pick for a book club – lots of good discussions!

  4. I was really moved by this book when I read it. It definitely was written from an interesting perspective, one that made me think. I hadn’t realized the author was writing a book from the daughter’s perspective. I’ll have to look for that one when it comes out. Thanks for your great review, Carrie.
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..That Long Overdue Reading Day is Here! =-.

  5. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    I remember when this book was making its rounds initially, and I could never decide if I could handle it or not. Certain topics make me take off running. But I think you have made me feel a little better about it. If I get the chance to read it I will!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Sunday Salon: From Sarasota with love =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sandy – I really think you can handle it – there is no real description of the crime or the mother’s thoughts.

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