Reviewed by Robert Goodman.
By Deborah O’Connor, Zaffre, $29.99.
Deborah O’Connor’s latest novel The Dangerous Kind is based on a disturbing statistic. That is that one in one hundred people is a “potentially dangerous person”, or likely to commit a dangerous crime. They are often people who have never committed a single crime but at some point go on to commit a serious offence causing physical or psychological harm. From this jumping off point she delivers a thoughtful thriller that touches on child abuse, grooming, cyber-stalking and domestic violence.
Jessamine hosts a radio show on the BBC in which she looks at crimes that seemingly came out of the blue. The show tries to get behind the crimes and determine what the causes were as a means of trying to stop them happening to others. In her spare time she also works on a help line for battered women and has a teenager who she adopted as a two year old from some sort of violent circumstances not revealed until later in the book. When a listener approaches her and asks her to investigate a current case of a friend of hers who has gone missing her life starts to spin out of control.
Jessamine is not the only focus of the narrative. Back in 2002, a teenager called Rowena is being pimped out by her boyfriend and later to a group of wealthy and influential men. This story is intercut with the main narrative, the connections coming clear later in the novel. But O’Connor also gives disturbing point-of-view chapters to Sarah, Jassamine’s adopted daughter who is engaged in a secret, online relationship, and Jitesh, Jessamine’s intern, who dabbles in a bit of cyber-stalking and is trying to protect a friend from another young man who has a history of abusing others physically and psychologically. O’Connor demonstrates a real feel for the complexity of these characters. There is plenty of grey in their actions – they lie, stalk and connive – but also a recognisable humanity.
There is alot going on in The Dangerous Kind but O’Connor manages to balance all of the various threads, each of which providing its own form of tension. And she manages to bring all of these threads together in a slightly contrived but effective way. O’Connor uses the plot device of the creation of a true crime podcast, one that is starting to be deployed regularly in crime fiction, to add a further air of realism.
The Dangerous Kind is crime fiction with purpose. There is plenty to chew on from a thematic perspective. The fact that there is no way to identify some of these “dangerous people” until after the fact, starts to become a little depressing. O’Connor uses her story to highlight real issues in society associated with power imbalances, poverty and violence and she does it from a number of perspectives. But it she also manages to develop and deliver a central mystery and a range of characters dilemmas that keep the pages turning.
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