‘A Dangerous Fiction’: stalking, murder in Manhattan

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DangerousMurder is more than a plot device in Barbara Rogan’s remarkable new mystery, “A Dangerous Fiction” (Viking), set in the upper reaches of Manhattan’s literary scene.

The two violent deaths in the novel pack an unusually powerful punch because Rogan shows how they are brutal violations of the world of literary agent Jo Donovan. So many thrillers kill so many people without a reader ever feeling a pang that Rogan deserves kudos for putting the sting back into fictional death (the second murder is particularly shocking and tragic).

One of the reasons the violence packs such a punch — without being very explicit — is that Rogan makes us care about the victims before they are dispatched, and we can see how painful both deaths are for the appealing heroine.

Jo Donovan has taken over a high-powered literary agency after being mentored by the terrific woman who ran the company until illness made that impossible.

The Hamish-Donovan agency has a mix of clients from young writers just starting out to best-selling authors.

The mystery plot is set in motion when Jo is accosted by an aspiring writer outside her office who is furious about being rejected with little more than a form letter. One of Jo’s assistants scares the guy away, but he follows her to a writer’s conference in Santa Fe, where the stalker gains access to her computer.

Upon her return to Manhattan, Jo faces a nightmarish situation in which her clients’ trust in her is shaken by emails she doesn’t send, and the media receives fake press releases that make her situation even worse.

Rogan does a masterful job of juggling the mounting suspense with a full-bodied portrait of New York literary life and Jo’s complex backstory as the widow of a major novelist in the Norman Mailer/Philip Roth mold. As Jo’s life starts to fall apart under the stalker’s assault, her worshipful image of her beloved dead husband also starts to crack when she begins to find out things she never knew about him.

“A Dangerous Fiction” blends the mystery elements with Jo’s attempt to hold her business and private lives together. The two murders are made even more painful when the police imply that Jo is as much a suspect as the mysterious stalker. Rogan also makes the reader wonder if someone Jo knows might be using the stalker as a cover for a much more personal attack.

Rogan takes us to splashy book parties and to the elegant restaurants where writers and agents do business. It’s fun to see how literary flesh peddlers sell writers in a time of massive changes in the publishing industry.

The fresh setting, the tricky plot, and the strong characterizations make “A Dangerous Fiction” one of the outstanding mysteries of 2013.

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Joe Meyers

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One Response

  1. Joe, I have to thank you for your kind and thoughtful review. I’m so glad you enjoyed A DANGEROUS FICTION and that you took the time to say so.

    With best regards,

    Barbara