JANE DOE JANUARY by Emily Winslow, Book Review

Jane Doe January is the searingly honest memoir from crime fiction author Emily Winslow, once a real-life victim of rape.
Jane Doe January by Emily Winslow

Jane Doe January Synopsis

My Twenty-Year Search for Truth and Justice

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. 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.

(May 2016, William Morrow, HarperCollins)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Crime

One of our Top 10 International Reads in 2016

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In 2013 I had the opportunity to connect with the work of this talented author.

The Start of Everything by Emily Winslow has the artistry of literature, the grittiness of a best-selling crime thriller, the complexity of an academic puzzle and characters you will not easily forget. I look forward to reading anything this author publishes in the future.” Read my full review.

For me, the extra special ingredient in The Start of Everything and again in The Red House (2015) is the rawness and honesty of Winslow’s fictional characters’ first person narratives.

So on receiving Emily’s email sounding out my interest in an advanced reader copy my immediate response was, “… it is awful to hear what trauma this must have been for you (then and all these years later), but if anyone is able to write about it in a way that speaks to people and makes them really think about these issues (for the better) it is you.”

Jane Doe January surpassed my expectations.

There is an immediate sense of intimacy and compelling tension as we ride shotgun with Winslow from the moment she was told the police had found her rapist – remembering the attack itself and her response (and that of those in her life) at the time, and how now so many years later she processes the information and readies herself for trial. She instinctively seeks out all information available to better understand the legal framework and prosecution process.

I look to the trial of Pittsburgh’s East End rapist for some hints of what to expect, if all goes as I hope it to. One of the descriptive articles details the “impact statements” that victims had presented at sentencing. They describe lasting physical injury, career effects, repeated suicide attempts, sexual fears, PTSD, and ongoing depression.

I feel threatened by these stories. I feel like a slacker. What kind of victim am I? Getting past what happened should be a victory, but I feel like I’m letting my side down. It doesn’t seem fair to measure the badness of what my attacker did in an inverse ratio to how I’ve coped. It seems that the better I’ve done, the more I’ve been able to thrive, the more he’ll then be excused, the more that what he did to me will be downgraded in significance.

The window into her life, hopes, frustrations and insecurities that Winslow affords readers is stunning, and her consideration of both the selfless and selfish elements of these, worthy of the deepest respect.

“Winslow’s precision and clarity disallow us the easy exit of ‘I can’t imagine…’ You don’t have to imagine. She’s drawn an eloquent, exacting map of what it feels like to dangle on the whims of justice. Life is a finer thing when we understand.” — Jamie Mason, author of Monday’s Lie

There are already several more effusive endorsements of Jane Doe January than the above, but in this I think Mason has captured its essence perfectly. While the crime is the catalyst, the story is the act of ‘living’ – the myriad of things that influence us and fuel our journey, and the gifts there for the taking should we invest effort into better understanding ourselves and others.

Stephen Hawking has suggested that the Big Bang could have been caused by the intersection of two universes, a bump that set off the explosion of a new universe. Sometimes I feel like human interactions and relationships are bumps like that, that we’re all so enormous with pasts and desires and faults and ambitions that our little meetings have larger, occasionally explosive, effects.

If, like me, you don’t typically gravitate to memoirs, Emily Winslow’s Jane Doe January is one I urge you to make an exception for. Such searing honesty is a rare and beautiful thing.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5  —  Overall 4.75

UPDATE: One of my best books of 2016 so far.

Get your copy of Jane Doe January from:

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About the Author, Emily Winslow

Emily Winslow, an American living in Cambridge, England, is the author of the memoir Jane Doe January and a series of Cambridge-set novels of psychological suspense – The Whole World, The Start of Everything and The Red House.

See Emily’s official website for more details.

* Receiving a copy of Jane Doe January from the author/publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.