I have never read a novel from cover to cover at one sitting in my life.
Until last night.
The novel is A Dangerous Fiction, a mystery by Barbara Rogan. Its 324 pages flew by in polished prose, an engrossing and intense read.
Set in the Hamish and Donovan Literary Agency in Manhattan, it’s part behind the scenes look at the publishing business and novel selection process, part detective story, and all breath-taking mystery. And if the complex story lines and details ring true, it’s because Barbara was a literary agent for 14 years, because she’s the very talented author of eight mystery/suspense novels who’s taught fiction-writing at the university level and in her own online workshops, because her research is impeccable, and because she’s a born storyteller.
The protagonist, Joanna Donovan, is the 30s-something widow of Hugo Donovan, reputed to be the Hemingway of his age, oh, and his age is… well, he was much older than Jo. When he dies, Jo returns to the literary agency she worked in before her marriage, where her mentor and best friend Molly Hamish makes her a partner, and when Molly retires, Jo buys her out and becomes sole owner of the agency, an agency peopled by complex characters, some of whom Jo likes, some who she appreciates, and some that try her patience.
When she’s accosted on the street one night by a would-be novelist she calls Sam Spade, Jo is shaken up. Shaken up and angered, especially when he tells her she’s his muse. She tells a client, a former FBI agent, about the incident, and he gets the NYC detectives involved, one of whom Jo dated years ago. The search for her stalker is on.
But the stalker raises the stakes. Her most lucrative and long-lived client, Rowena Blair, is found shot to death, and then Molly Hamish suffers the same fate, and because both women seemed to have been murdered by someone they knew, Jo finds herself a possible suspect. The police seem to have forgotten about finding Sam Spade. Jo is anguished over her loss of Molly, and frustrated and angered by the slick shenanigans her stalker plays with the agency’s and her personal business.
The title, A Dangerous Fiction, works on different levels—the dangers agents may come up against in the face of persistent and desperate would-be authors, the lies Jo tells herself so that she can believe hers was a perfect marriage to an older, brilliant, and philandering husband, and the excellent disguise of the murderer.
I will leave it there. If I say more, I’m bound to spoil it for you, and that I wouldn’t do. A Dangerous Fiction is not to be missed. I bet you’ll read it in one sitting too.