*This review will contain spoilers!*
'There's attention, and then there's attention, and sure, the latter gets you fame and money and free designer shoes, but I'm not Lindsay Lohan.'
'A California judge has overturned the first-degree murder conviction of Jane Jenkins as part of the ongoing investigation into the mismanagement of evidence by the Los Angeles County Crime Lab from 2001 to 2005.'Going on to explain that Jane has been in jail for 10 years for killing her mother, it's obvious that this book is going to be all about Jane's hunt for the true identity of her mother's murderer. I was hooked from the word go.
Ten years ago, Hollywood It Girl Jane Jenkins - daughter of socialite Marion Elsinger, ex-girlfriend of James Franco and Jim Adkins - was convicted of murdering her mother.
All signs pointed to her: the fact that she'd wished her mother dead in front of all of their staff earlier in the evening, Marion having written Jane's name in blood next to her body, and Jane's blasé attitude to finding her mother's body - calmly smoking a cigarette before phoning the police.
But Jane doesn't know if she did it or not. She can't remember picking up the shotgun and aiming it in her mother's face, but it does sound like the kind of thing she would do, and everyone else is so convinced.
So when Jane's giving another chance at freedom, she hits the ground running, racing against the clock to find the identity of her mother's killer. She'd overheard a conversation between her and a mysterious man on the night of her murder, in which the town of Adeline was mentioned, so Jane steals a truck and drives cross country to an old gold rush area up in the mountains.
Taking on the fake identity of Rebecca Parker, Jane fights all of her instincts to become mousy and inoffensive, sliding under the radar of the town's inhabitants. But she gets off on the wrong foot with local cop Leo, and it's not long before he's digging into her past and hoping to find out all of her dirty secrets.
As well as Leo snooping around, Jane's being hounded by crime gossip blogger Trace, who is offering a huge reward for the location of her whereabouts. With TMZ and Trace hot on her tail, and the stolen truck cold hard proof that she actually did commit a crime this time, Jane needs to learn to think fast and act even faster if she wants to solve the murder before the police catch up with her.
How's she supposed to know that finding the identity of the killer will also tell her who her biological father is?
It's not often that a thriller book can keep me on my toes and keep my concentration, but 'Dear Daughter' managed to do both. I had no idea who the murderer was, and when it was revealed I slapped myself on the forehead - it was so obvious, but because Elizabeth Little sprinkled the clues sparsely I could only see it for myself after I'd been told.
The setting was a great choice, as the rural area with the small cast adds to the tension exponentially. It's obvious that one of the residents of Ardelle - the town twinned with the now abandoned Adeline - must be the murderer, so throughout the story you're left second guessing every interaction that Jane makes.
I loved the pacing for the first half of the book - Jane getting out of prison, embracing her new identity and fighting her inner snark to draw as little attention as possible - but it lagged for a while in the middle. Splicing the chapters with different structural pieces (such as newspaper articles, blog entries and interviews) kept it interesting, and weaving these excerpts directly with the piece of Jane's narration we'd just experienced gave us more of an idea just how unreliable she was as a narrator. This is particularly well done after Jane talks about her 'friend' the prison librarian, as the interview between the chapters then features the librarian in question stating "it's not like we were friends". Jane has been deceiving herself for years, which is one of the reasons it's so feasible that she isn't certain whether she's the culprit or not.
It perfectly addresses the fact that our memory can deceive us, particularly when we're experiencing psychological stress. Everyone is convinced that Jane is the murderer, and that conviction leads her to doubt herself. The mind plays funny tricks on people.
It also sparks the debate as to whether blood relation means family. Jane's biological father is the murderer (I'm not going to give away the killer's identity, because I want you to be equally as surprised as I was!) and he attempts to kill her when she works out that he's guilty. Jane's friends in Ardelle treat her like family, but her own flesh and blood points a gun at her... It really makes you think about what family truly means.
This book is perfect for the disenfranchised youth. It feels quite young adult - because Jane spent the end of her teenage years and the start of her adulthood in jail, she's quite immature - so I do think this is one that's going to appeal to readers of all ages (just particularly the ones that are sarcastic as fuck and have problems with their parents!).
It looks as though Elizabeth Little's second novel, 'Follow Me', is scheduled for release next year, which means it's going to have been three years since this debut came out. With this kind of writing I'm certain Elizabeth is going to have readers coming back in droves to see what she does next - I for one certainly can't wait.