*I received this book from the publisher The Viking Press in exchange for an honest review.
Sometimes, but not often, you open a book, read the first few pages, and know without a doubt that you will thoroughly enjoy a book. A Dangerous Fiction by Barbara Rogan was just that sort of book. As is obvious by the title, this is a literary mystery but not one you might expect.
Jo Donovan owns Hamish and Donovan, a literary agency handed down to her by her former boss, mentor, and friend Molly. Though she occasionally doubts the method in which she was chosen to handle the firm – she was married to the famous author Hugo Donovan – Jo knows she’s good at her job. She runs a tight ship, cultivating her loyal staffÂ – Lorna, Harriet, Jean-Paul, and Chloe – and using their strengths to benefit the authors she represents. Together, they weed through submissions to determine which deserve a chance and which either aren’t good enough or don’t fit the image of Hamish and Donovan.
Those rejections come under scrutiny when an author dressed in a trench and fedora accosts Jo outside her building, telling her ominously, “Mark the time, Jo. Remember this moment. Both our lives are about to change.” Chalking it up to the peculiarities of some writers, Jo entertains others with the tale of the man she dubs Sam Spade until a cruel act of sabotage follows, making Sam Spade seem much more sinister. Another client, Max Messinger, whose loyalty is only matched by a guard dog given to Jo by another author, is a former FBI agent who helps the agency navigate life after the attack, but he’s also a source of support for Jo who is unused to dealing with police and specifically lead detective Tommy Cullen, a former boyfriend.
As Jo watches her agency and her life come under attack, she also has to examine the life she led with her beloved husband Hugo and who she is without him, and though I loved this book in its entirety, I especially loved watching Jo’s painful transformation. She mentions at some point that we craft our own stories of our lives, and I definitely believe that to be true. For Jo, a difficult childhood means that she really equates much of her marriage with her life story as she knows it, and the realization that a. her story must include the bad bits and b. even her marriage may not have been what she thought is both heartbreaking and lovely.
A Dangerous Fiction is also full of perfect readerly moments such as these:
As I ate, I felt stronger. The dark cloud had receded, if only for the moment. Raymond Carver was right, I thought. It is the small, good things that save us.
I have known only one man as vivid and outsized as a proper fictional protagonist, and reader, I married him.
YetÂ the novel never bargains away story, character, or mystery for its wit.
Add this book to your Goodreads shelf.