Both “Jane Doe” and the sequel, “Problem Child,” by Victoria Helen Stone are chilling novels. Chilling but also thrilling and — ironically — touching. Because while the main character Jane admits she’s a sociopath and doesn’t have the emotions and feelings that “normal” people have, in both books she’s out there doing good things and righting wrongs.
Don’t get me wrong. She’s also having a great time screwing over the associate lawyer she works with and having lots of sex and eating scrumptious food, but the associate lawyer deserves everything he gets. She also gets the benefit of kinky sex with her boyfriend Luke.
(Spoiler alert for the first book) While Jane never thought she’d have a boyfriend, she and Luke fit together well. He likes that she’s calm and rather unemotional because of his upbringing, and she realizes that she likes some stability and knowing that there’s someone there to count on, someone who “gets” her.
In the first book, “Jane Doe,” Jane takes a leave from her important and well-paying job in Malaysia and returns to Minnesota, where she went to college, to avenge the death of her best friend. Meg, her best and only friend, committed suicide after being abused by someone she loved and thought the love was mutual. He ended up making her feel worthless, and she died.
The writing is masterful. This is not just a plot driven novel. Along the way, Stone, through main character Jane, has amazingly insightful commentary about how men all too often treat women in ways that denigrate women. She points out how men are raised to do that, naturally, and women are raised to please men. In the most innocuous bar settings, in interactions between men and women, Jane cuttingly and acerbically cuts through the emotions and lays out what is going on.
There’s a glorious scene in a conservative church, where the pastor is sermonizing about the right way to live. He says that if you follow the right way to live according to God’s law, “You’ll be rewarded with work, with dignity, with food, with money, with love, and with the knowledge that you are living in the right.” He goes on to say that there will be trials and tribulations, and God will test them with things like job layoffs and “gay, promiscuous children.” Jane’s response is to be “dumbfounded by what people will accept. When other people are suffering, it’s because they’re not righteous. But when our people suffer, it’s only a test of faith.”
Because Jane is the first person narrator, we know she is thinking, “They seem to love the idea that women and children are abused and hungry because women can’t keep their legs closed. They nod along when he explains that poor women choose fornication over hard work. They shake their heads at the idea that upstanding, God-fearing people like them have to pay taxes to support these lifestyles.” The pastor continues, “When children are taught that there is always a free lunch, how will they ever learn the dignity and blessings of hard work? Free lunch and free love and free health care? I say we have free will. Free will to live the way our Lord intended. To marry and work and live in God’s grace. To keep your legs closed and your hearts open to the Lord.”
Readers will smile and nod at Jane’s commentary about this unholy sermon. “I can see that the sociopaths heading up huge corporations take as much money as they can, and our tax money pays for their employees’ food stamps. We subsidize the corporate profits. It’s genius, really. A fabulous con. And all of these smug parishioners think they’re the smart ones. I’d fleece them, too, given the chance.”
We like Jane. We like her cynical view of life and the relationships between many men and women. We like that she’s going to get back at the man who caused Meg to end her life. And the fun continues in the second book, “Problem Child,” due out in March, 2020. Although Jane hasn’t been close to her abusive family for years, they let her know that her niece has disappeared. While Jane doesn’t care at all about any of her family members — her brother is in jail and tortured her when they were growing up — she’s inadvertently told that the niece, Kayla, is “like Jane.”
That makes Jane wonder if Kayla is also a sociopath. And Jane gets bored easily. Her life and her job are routine, and taking a break to search for a missing niece who just might be a sociopath like Jane sounds intriguing. And by taking time off to search for a missing family member, she is encouraging her fellow attorneys to view her as a kind of hero. So she’s off to visit the family and find Kayla.
What she finds is a missing maybe-pimp, and a missing Kayla. No one really cares that Kayla is gone, but several men that Jane interviews are scared by the mention of Kayla’s name. It’s great fun following Jane as she uses her superior intelligence and understanding of human foibles to get the information she needs. And, like the readers, also has some fun along the way.
Stone writes Jane’s narrative as a sociopath in a manner that feels really authentic. It’s fascinating and a bit chilling. It’s also interesting that Jane does form attachments of a sort, and she comments on that. Each book is a complete story with an ending, but each book also leaves the reader wanting more — wanting to know more about Jane and how she rights more wrongs. What is this sociopath, who claims she has no emotions and doesn’t care about people, going to do next to be a hero? Stay tuned.
Please note: This review is based on the final copies provided by Lake Union, the publisher, for review purposes.