Review: A DANGEROUS FICTION by Barbara Rogan (Penguin)

RoganB-DangerousFictionA publishing industry whodunnit?

When a glamorous literary agent falls prey to a violent stalker, she discovers that the publishing biz can really be murder…

Jo Donovan always manages to come out on top. Originally from the backwoods of Appalachia, she forged a hard path to elegant lunches and parties among New York City’s literati. At thirty-five, she’s the widow of the renowned novelist (and notorious playboy) Hugo Donovan, the owner of one of the best literary agencies in town, and is one of the most sought-after agents in the business. But all this is about to fall apart, as a would-be client turns stalker, a hack shops around a proposal for an unauthorized tell-all biography of Hugo, and a handsome old flame shows up without warning.

Both a seasoned author and a former literary agent herself, Barbara Rogan knows the publishing world from all angles. Fans of Lisa Lutz and Jaqueline Winspear will adore Jo Donovan and Rogan’s wickedly sharp tale that skewers the dangerous fictions we read—and the dangerous fictions we tell ourselves.

This was a pretty interesting novel. I first heard about it years ago, but only recently picked it up at the Strand Bookstore, in New York (easily one of the most overwhelmingly magical places on the planet…). A Dangerous Fiction is a well-written, interesting novel. There was one main weakness, but I nevertheless enjoyed reading it. It’s a must for anyone interested in publishing, too.

I’ll deal with my main issue with the novel first: the “thriller” aspect of it, related to the stalker and deadly goings-on. For such a slim novel, that side of the narrative felt rather secondary — updates on the investigation and new events related to the stalker and apparent targeting of Jo and her agency were brief and we moved past them a bit quickly. The novel probably would have benefited from being a little longer, in order to build that side of the story a bit more (maybe 50-100 pages more?). There seemed to be just a little too much ‘hurry-up-and-wait’, mixed with a perhaps-contradictory rushed feel — combined, they robbed the novel of suspense.

In contrast, discussion and explanations of the publishing industry, how literary agencies work and what agents do were detailed and extremely well-written. As someone who has worked at/for publishers and agencies, this was pretty interesting to me. Rogan offers great insight and plenty of inside baseball (without using real names, of course) into the world of New York publishing. It never comes across as info-dumping, nor dull. The idea of a rejected author become a stalker must be a nightmare many agents have pondered… In some ways, I think the novel was primarily a way to write about the publishing industry and weave a bit of mystery/thrills around the work.

The twist at the end was pretty good, seeded just a little too clearly shortly before the reveal. Jo was also incredibly dense during the final confrontation, which bothered me. At times, she wasn’t the best protagonist — alternating between hyper-competent and then dense as a post. I suppose that’s pretty realistic, as we all have our best and worst moments, but it didn’t ring quite as true as it could have. The ending was not bad. It just felt like it came too soon.

Rogan’s a good writer, her prose is clear and well-composed. A Dangerous Fiction should appeal to fans of fiction and ‘gentle’ thrillers (as opposed to some of the more bloody and brutal examples that can seem to dominate the genre).

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