DEAR DAUGHTER is the stunning and chilling debut novel of Elizabeth Little, the author of two previous nonfiction books. The story begins with the release of Janie Jenkins from prison after serving 10 years for killing her mother: "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."
Janie had been found guilty of the murder of her socialite/philanthropist mother by shooting her in the face. Marion Elsinger was a Swiss American citizen who had had many husbands and many names, along with many homes. She was a "mommy dearest" in the fullest sense to Jane. But now that this "celebutante" has been released back into the world, much to the chagrin of many, she has to take on a dowdy persona in the hope of not being recognized. She also must leave California for "the middle" of the country, and ends up in a small town in South Dakota.
"...a harrowing story that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. The ending is like a punch in the nose, coming out of nowhere and leaving readers breathless."
Janie has no memory of the night her mother was murdered. But that does not mean she didn’t kill her; she just can’t remember. So she cuts off her trademark hair, buys some cheap, frumpy clothes, and sets out to find the truth. In doing so, she is ready to accept the fact that she may have killed her own mother.
Throughout the narrative, Janie receives threatening emails and text messages from a lunatic who calls himself or herself "Trace." He or she writes scary stuff, such as: "I see you, Jane. I see you on the ground, just as broken and bloody and debased as your mother was. I see your blood dripping through my fingers." These crazy notes follow Janie throughout her journey back to wholeness and the truth.
Janie is also very introspective and sees herself as a reckless person who finds that "recklessness [is] a state of abandon. Of thoughtlessness. Of a conscious decision to ignore repercussions and eventualities. And I bet it's liberating for them, like spinning in circles and falling to the ground. But...my recklessness was a demonstration of restraint. I spun in circles to prove I could walk a straight line after."
Janie soon realizes that her search is really for someone named Tessa, a woman who seems to be a mythic figure to her. And she goes looking in the twin towns of Ardelle and Adeline, one refurbished and alive, the other waiting its turn to be rejuvenated.
In an interview, Elizabeth Little talks about her love for mystery novels and how she aspires to join the ranks of "Carolyn Keene to Agatha Christie to Josephine Tey to Thomas Harris --- and on and on and on." She certainly has made a grand beginning with DEAR DAUGHTER, a harrowing story that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. The ending is like a punch in the nose, coming out of nowhere and leaving readers breathless. Whether you take this mystery to the beach or relax in front of your air conditioner, this is a novel you should not miss.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on August 1, 2014