Written by Barbara Rogan — The crime fiction genre is packed with quizzical private detectives and flawed but brilliant police men and women, so it made a refreshing change to meet Jo Donovan, literary agent. A young widow, she runs the successful Hamish-Donovan Agency in New York and it is through her work that she becomes the target for a stalker – a spurned author – who just won’t give up. When they first meet, the author is wearing a trilby and long coat, so Jo flippantly christens him Sam Spade. The name sticks, and Sam begins to bombard Jo with unwanted gifts including a copy of his terrible manuscript, much of which bears more than a passing resemblance to Jo’s own story. How is she going to let him down gently?
It’s all so much, so routine for a literary agent like Jo, until the simple stalking turns into something much more menacing. Jo’s email account is hacked, and bogus messages containing non-existent offers, contracts and deals are sent to several of her most important clients. Then the tension ratchets up a notch when Rowena Blair, one of Jo’s top authors and friends, is found brutally murdered. The words ‘Can you hear me now?’ have been daubed on the wall, in her blood. The race is on to find the elusive Sam Spade before he does any more damage.
This book is a good old-fashioned whodunnit with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. Jo is a well developed character and her agency staff are an entertaining mix, although I found the English woman Harriet – Jo’s fellow agent – clichéed and unrealistic. Where this book really succeeds is in its depiction of the workings of a literary agency, and the high-powered world of publishing which Jo Donovan calls home. Which shouldn’t surprise me really, because Barbara Rogan herself ran a successful agency before turning her attentions full time to fiction writing. A Dangerous Fiction is her eighth novel, and in it she uses her background knowledge well. I loved getting behind the scenes of the publishing world, from the agency’s monthly ‘slush-pile’ meeting where submitted manuscripts are waded through (and mostly discarded), to glittering book launch parties.
Rogan throws everything into A Dangerous Fiction. Prepare yourself for half-naked men, a sexy detective, romantic reunions and even a cuddly attack dog. There is plenty going on here, and perhaps that’s the trouble – there’s so much activity that the whole thing doesn’t quite gel together at times. There are touches of Barbara Taylor Bradford in among the detective work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but will probably prove a turn-off for fans of hard-hitting crime fiction. A Dangerous Fiction borders on the cosy, and will appeal to those who like a touch of romance amid the gore, and readers who are interested in learning about the genesis of the books they read.
The crime fiction genre is a wide ranging one, with plenty of room for new and unusual angles. There are only so many serial killers and child kidnappers a reader can take! Jo Donovan is a great central character who deserves her place among the PIs and police officers. She could certainly carry a sequel and it seems as though we may be hearing more from her in the future. It’s out on 25 July.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars