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Friday 5 August 2016

‘Jane Doe January’ by Emily Winslow

Published by William Morrow,
30 June 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-06-243480-7 (HB)

True crime isn’t my favourite genre as a rule, but I found myself intrigued at the prospect of a first-person account of the eventual pursuit of justice for a violent crime committed more than twenty years ago, especially when it was written by a novelist who is gathering a strong following and a lot of respect.

One winter evening when Emily Winslow was a drama student at a prestigious college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she was subjected to a painful and humiliating rape by a man who chose her at random and followed her into her apartment. Unlike many rape victims, who are so traumatized that they need to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the horrific experience, Emily sought help right away. She received nothing but sympathy and support from the police, the hospital nurses who helped assemble DNA and other evidence, and the staff and students of her college. But the man was never caught, and she was obliged to put the incident behind her and get on with her life.

But that kind of experience never really goes away. Twenty years later, out of the blue, having built a life, a family and a career five thousand miles from Pittsburgh in Cambridge, she was notified that the DNA sample which had been stored ever since the night of the rape had been matched to the perpetrator of another similar crime, and the man was in custody.

Jane Doe January is the story of what happened next: the convoluted legal process, the delays and frustrations, the hopes and fears, and most of all the maelstrom of emotions which Emily went through as she gathered information about her attacker and police and lawyers across the Atlantic prepared the case for trial and picked their way through the procedures which had to be followed.

Of course throughout the year the process took to play itself out, real life had to be lived as well: trying to support her husband, who is badly affected by seeing her in pain; protecting her two young sons from her own emotional state, and going on being a good mother to them; finishing revisions on a novel her publishers were waiting for. In the middle of it all she received a huge blow when she lost a close friend and her main source of emotional support; and towards the end of the legal tangle, a surprise development gave the story a twist to rival anything in a crime novel. With the sure hand of a natural writer, Winslow recounts all of this, and brings to life the differences in attitude and approach she discovered among her English friends and the people in America whose job it was to bring the rapist to justice.

They say that every writer observes his or her own life as well as living it: something that Jane Doe January shows that Emily Winslow is adept at. Her own see-sawing emotional state is often painful to watch; she has the knack of drawing the reader in, and the very fact that she is such a skilled writer, coupled with the knowledge that everything on the page really happened, made the book a difficult read.

But in the end it was worth the effort. I can’t say it ended on an entirely positive note; how could it? But Emily Winslow emerges as a strong woman with the capacity to rise above this heavy emotional burden and move her life forward.
 Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Emily Winslow is an American writer who in 2006 moved to Cambridge, England, with her British husband and two little boys. Falling in love with Cambridge, its gorgeousness and quirkiness and way the University permeates the city, Emily’s first book began as her attempt to describe it The Whole World was published in 2010.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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