Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

In brief: After ten years, Jane Jenkins is released from gaol on a technicality. Did she murder her mother? Jane doesn’t know but she’s going to discover her mother’s secrets to find out who she is.

The good: Interesting premise, liked the use of emails/blog posts/texts/transcripts within the narrative.

The not-so-good: The ending is quite abrupt and made me feel like we were back to square one.

Why I chose it: Heard good things about it on social media, thanks to Random House (Vintage Publishing) for the eARC.

Year: 2014

Pages: 400

Publisher: Random House

Setting: USA (California and South Dakota)

My rating: 8 out of 10

Dear Daughter is one of those books I’ve been itching to get too after reading many good things on social media (yes Twitter, you do influence my reading). I did read this straight after Caroline Keynes’ You (published end September/early October) and I think Dear Daughter suffered slightly against Keynes’ masterpiece. However, it’s still a unique take on the crime thriller genre, this time from the viewpoint of the supposed murderer. Why do I say supposed? Well, Jane Jenkins (not Janie, that’s just some dumb moniker made up by the press to go with Aerosmith’s song Janie’s Got a Gun) isn’t really sure if she killed her mum. That night wasn’t a pretty one and her recollection of events is pretty hazy. Plus, why did her mum scratch her name in blood as she lay dying?

Jane’s has ten years to think about this and now she’s been released from prison after a bungle in laboratory processing. She’s technically innocent, but there are many people still baying for her blood, including Trace, a crime blogger with a reward for the person to discover where she is now. Heck, even TMZ has got regular stories speculating on what she’s doing. This was a society murder after all – how does a beautiful girl who is famous for being famous turn into a killer? Jane is going to find out the truth, based on snatches of conversation she heard that fateful night, so she’s going to Adeline, South Dakota. It’s a derelict town from gold rush days, twinned with nearby Ardelle (the people went where the gold was and the towns were nearly identical). Jane’s there as dowdy Rebecca, a historian, to find out the truth about who her mother really was. She’s going to get a bit more than she bargained for as the town celebrates its annual gold rush festival…

I liked Dear Daughter, but didn’t love it to bits. Jane’s not a character that you can like easily; she’s far too calculated and prickly for that. Her previous life of privilege also makes her stand apart, along with her snobbish criticisms of the residents of Ardelle. Yet you have to admire her – she’s got sass and even though she admits she makes some dumb moves, she simply moves on and tries to get herself ahead as best she can. She uses every single situation to her advantage, whether it is getting the information she wants or a clever putdown. I think one of the reasons I didn’t feel comfortable with Jane is because I know darn well she wouldn’t like me!

I was a little disappointed when the plot took the reader to Ardelle/Adeline and stayed there, but Little made the best of the small town setting. Everyone knows everything about everyone else, so it’s a good mine for information. Plus, the supporting characters of Kelley, Renee and Leo were very well done. I felt like I could be BFFs with Kelley and Renee and I looked forward to their appearances in the story. They talked clear sense and also weren’t above trying to find out Jane’s real motives. But the real star for me was Rue, a snotty teenager who just wants to get the hell out of Ardelle and be like famed ex-resident, Tessa Kanty. She has some of the best one liners in the book and I’d be happy to read a story with her as the main character.

As for the ending, yes, it was well plotted and no, I didn’t guess the real murderer. It was the final email that got me down. I’d just been through the whole ordeal with Jane and the ending had me yelling, “What? Again?”

To be honest, it was kind of annoying because there was no redemption. It could also mean there’s a sequel in the works. I really think the ending would have been more powerful without that final email.

You will still power through this novel like there’s no tomorrow because it’s a fresh and new voice with an interesting plot and enough snarky one liners to get you through a high school reunion.

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