LA IT girl Janie Jenkins was wealthy, attractive, and infamous – even more so when she was convicted of brutally murdering her Swiss-American socialite mother, Marion Jenkins-Elsinger. Ten years later, Janie is released on an evidence mismanagement technicality and, with the help of her idealistic lawyer Noah, immediately goes undercover to hunt down the truth about what happened the night her mother died. Despite her blank memory and her dislike of her mother, Janie believes she is innocent, but the vengeful media believes she has gotten away with murder. Now, she has to find proof by following the only lead she has to small town South Dakota, where posing as mousy academic Rebecca, she finally discovers who her mother really was.
(Mild spoilers ahead)
Elizabeth Little’s Dear Daughter came out highly lauded last year, another in the series of Gone Girl-esque thrillers. Unlike Amazing Amy, Janie never comes across as sweet – she’s an entitled manipulative teen, who admittedly had an isolated childhood followed by incarceration, but has no real excuse for being so utterly terrible to people. If you’re judging a person on first impressions, no wonder everyone thinks she’s a murderess. Being inside her (bitchy) head still doesn’t make her someone you want to root for, in spite of my belief in “innocent until proven guilty” and all that. Nevertheless, her self-destructive streak made me at least pity her, as did the ruthless hounding of the media.
The most fascinating part of this book is its coverage of our 21st century creepy obsession with celebrity. From bloggers to nighttime news talking-heads, everyone was judging and speculating on Janie without even knowing her or the truth. Some part of me believes that’s the downside of the job, as every job has something, but it did make me feel bad for the Lindsay Lohans of the world who are basically zoo exhibits. The media snippets really round out the story for me, providing a much-appreciated break from Janie’s snark.
Given her personality, even with her horrible acting as dull-as-dishwater Rebecca, I’m surprised her investigations actually went anywhere. It was mostly dumb luck and courtesy of her newfound friends, who are just too easily accepting of her story. These supporting characters were Lifetime channel regulars, shallowly stereotypical and not as colorful as they thought they were. In particular, the murderer, whose final confrontation with Janie comes across as ridiculously cheesy, an overdone encounter that made me wish Janie had actually killed her mother. This mustache-twirling villain enters rather out of left field, though I shouldn’t have been surprised because by that point the book feels like a made-for-TV movie.
For all Gone Girl’s faults (IMHO), at least I admit it was innovative. Dear Daughter‘s plots and people have been seen before, in real life and in fiction. Dark, but not deep, this is one mystery that I can take or leave.