Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review: Jane Doe January

Summary: Emily Winslow was a young drama student at an elite conservatory in Pittsburgh when she was brutally raped one night in January 1992. Twenty years later, a man was arrested in New York City. His DNA, recorded in the FBI’s criminal database because of an old drug conviction, had been matched to evidence from another 1992 rape that was similar to Winslow’s, and the police were able to link the crimes. The victims—one from January of that year, the other from November—were kept anonymous in the media. This is the story of Jane Doe January. 

Now a happily married mother of two living in Cambridge, England, Winslow had longed to face her attacker for years. Highly inquisitive and restless for answers, she turned her career as a crime novelist into a personal investigation—she delved into his past, reconnected with the detectives of her case, and worked with prosecutors in the months leading up to the trial. While preparing to testify back in Pennsylvania for the crime committed against her two decades prior, she was pulled between two very different worlds: a hard-boiled American drama of intense detectives and legal bureaucracy, and her rarefied new world in Cambridge, where the university’s rituals and pervasive formality were both a comfort and a challenge.

Jane Doe January is the intimate memoir of a woman’s traumatic past catching up with her. In her first work of nonfiction, Winslow vividly recounts her long quest to see her case resolved, giving way to a strikingly honest narrative about the surprise possibility of justice after twenty years. -- William Morrow

I mentioned a few days ago that my book club read JANE DOE JANUARY: MY TWENTY-YEAR SEARCH FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE by Emily Winslow for our July meeting. I was the only one who enjoyed it, although enjoy might not be the right word given the subject matter. I found this personal story about a woman who was raped while in college in the early 1990s to be extremely moving.

Emily Winslow was in the drama program at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University when she was brutally attacked and raped by a stranger. The man responsible was never arrested... until over twenty years later when he was arrested for another crime and his DNA matched that of a rapist in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. The police were able to link the crime with the author's crime, and Ms. Winslow's was desperate to see justice served.

Ms. Winslow had moved to Cambridge, England, and was now happily married and the mother of two young sons when she learned that the man responsible for the rape had been found. As a writer of true crime books, Ms. Winslow put her research skills to the test and began a personal investigation into his life. She thoroughly researched his past while also working closely with the police and prosecutors responsible for putting him in jail for his crimes with the hopes that justice would eventually be served.

JANE DOE JANUARY is an up-front and personal look at one woman's quest for justice twenty years after a horrific crime. It wasn't always easy to read for me and I can't say I was satisfied with the ending... but that's not a testament to the author. Rather, I was extremely impressed with Ms. Winslow's honesty in telling a difficult story as well as her inner strength and courage. So while it was an uncomfortable read at times, I found it to be inspirational and extremely honest.

I will agree with many of my friends that the book was a little slow in places especially in the parts that dealt with the legal intricacies of the trial. I have always been a fan of true crime as well as legal thrillers so I can't say I minded these parts; however, it was an eye-opener in just how tedious and slow-moving our legal system is. What I took away from these parts (besides the sometimes unfair rules) is just how difficult it must be for victims to go through this entire process.

One thing I appreciated about this story was the way Ms. Winslow juxtaposed what was going on in the States concerning the case against her rapist and her life in Cambridge. Needless to say, while both Pittsburgh and Cambridge are "college towns," they couldn't be more different... especially when it came to the people living there. I found her struggles to understand the people in Cambridge to be extremely interesting as was the way she juggled the various players in the case when she returned to Pittsburgh.

Probably the main reason this book was so interesting to me was because I could totally understand the author's passion in learning everything there was to know about her rapist. While many in my book club found Ms. Winslow's writing to be kind of repetitive, I appreciated the honestly of it. Believe me when I say that I think I would be just like Ms. Winslow in her pursuit to uncover anything and everything about this man. And the "repetitiveness" of the book resonated with me because I actually could feel the sense of urgency that Ms. Winslow had.

Despite my group's misgivings about reading JANE DOE JANUARY for a book club meeting, I still recommend it for the "right" groups. There is a reading guide available with five discussion questions as well as a "Behind the Book Essay." Some of the things you might want to discuss are our judicial system, victims' rights, living as a victim both immediately after the crime and decades later, and justice.

I will admit that JANE DOE JANUARY might not be an ideal read for all types of readers; however, I definitely appreciated the story and especially the honesty of the author. Recommended to fans of true crime and memoirs.

Thanks for the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

You know me and memoirs. This sounds like a tough, but important, read.