Book Review

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone

TW/CW for this book: sexual manipulation, emotional and physical abuse, and allusions to and discussion of child physical and sexual abuse.

Summary: Jane Doe is a first-person POV thriller – author Victoria Helen Stone calls it “emotional suspense” in our podcast interview, and I think it’s an ideal term for this book.

Jane is a sociopath. She knows it, and she’s done considerable research to figure out why and how she was different from other people.

Jane is intent on two things: inserting herself into the life of a man who hurt someone she cared about, and then destroying him. She uses an abuser’s techniques against him, and becomes a wonderfully scary and intoxicating predator in the process, figuring out first how, then when to take revenge on Steven.

I read this book in one day at RT, on the last day of the conference, and stayed up WAY too late to finish it. It’s so difficult to put down. And I’ve been sitting on my hands to keep from spoiling it for Elyse, who I know hadn’t read it yet.

FINALLY SHE DID.

Elyse: I just finished Jane Doe and I think I need a cigarette. That was the most satisfying book I’ve read in ages.

Sarah: I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO HAVE READ IT. I’m so excited to talk about this book with you.

I know many people don’t like first-person POV, I have to say, spending a book inside the head of a person who has no capacity to experience shame, fear, guilt, or remorse was so incredibly liberating.

I love how the story mixes mystery, thriller, and a tiny bit of romance, too. We as the reader know she’s getting revenge, but the why, and the how – and the when – are all part of the mystery. And seeing how close she gets to killing Steven before she’s ready is also part of the suspense.

Elyse: Jane is a sociopath, she’s aware of it, and that’s where her power comes from. Without the first person narrative, we’d be unable to stay three moves ahead of Steven (the villain) who doesn’t even realize he’s playing chess.

I spent a long time thinking about Jane’s sociopathy after I finished this book. My understanding of sociopaths is mostly informed by crime thrillers that suggest sociopaths are rare creatures who morph into serial killers. Jane disabuses us of that notion, and of the idea that she cannot form meaningful interpersonal relationships.

Jane is an immensely likeable character and I envied her total lack of self-doubt and recrimination. Jane never questions her value or intelligence, and she has no hang ups regarding her body or sexuality. Reading through her eyes felt incredibly liberating. And because Jane isn’t bogged down by self-doubt, she’s able to completely focus on observing and destroying Steven. She’s immune to everything he throws at her.
He cannot manipulate or hurt a woman who has no regard for his opinion and never questions her power.

Sarah: I can’t begin to explain how incredible it was to be so deeply immersed in the experience of a person who has no remorse, no self-doubt. I was taught to carry around copious amounts of self-doubt at a young age, as I imagine many people were, and being in Jane’s POV meant seeing situations without any guilt or shame whatsoever. She accepts herself exactly as she is, because nothing prevents her from doing so.

I also admire how she makes decisions so quickly; she doesn’t have to worry about how her decisions affect anyone. That’s the point of her plan, in fact. She doesn’t care about what happens to Steven because he didn’t care what happened to the people he hurt. Jane also constantly reframes his behavior and habits, which are terribly familiar, and uses his sexism and misogyny against him in ways he doesn’t catch or understand. He is so outclassed. Every way in which he is toxic and entitled is an opportunity to manipulate him, and Jane does so over and over again.

My one wish was that the final showdown was longer, more drawn out. It took so long, so many careful steps to get there, that I went back and re-read the final scenes a few times to extend the vicarious catharsis of watching her destroy Steven. The final scenes are short, and I wanted more to savor.

I will definitely re-read this book. Fun story: after I finished it, and so deeply identified with the cold, calculating rage Jane displays toward an abusive man, I was a little worried and took a online quiz (which are NEVER wrong, of course) to ask if I was a sociopath. The quiz openly laughed at me for asking. But I still think about this book months after I read it. I also think constantly about the ways shame, self-doubt, and fear influence my decisions – and how I can diminish their importance in my perspective.

My grade: B. I wanted more at the end, and felt that the final explosion didn’t quite balance the carefully increased tension of the build-up, but I have never read a book like this one, and am so, so glad I did.

Elyse: I do agree with you about the end being a little short. Jane gets her revenge, but it wasn’t quite painful enough for me. Maybe I’m too bloodthirsty. Maybe I’m too sick of reading about men like Steven who don’t face any real consequences for their actions.

As I said above, I spent a lot of time thinking about Jane and her sociopathy and I questioned whether her character was truly a sociopath or rather a study of a woman who is completely freed from the anxieties and insecurities that stem from living in a patriarchal culture. Steven cannot shame Jane about her body or sexaulity because she feels no shame regarding either. She’s completely comfortable in her skin. She’s successful professionally because she doesn’t undervalue or downplay her intelligence and ability to succeed in a male-dominated world. She doesn’t become entrapped in the toxic behavior of her mother.

As I read this book I thought, what if Jane is not a sociopath, but rather an example of a what a woman can be when all the baggage that comes from being a woman is stripped away–the doubt, the irrational sense of familial duty, the self-criticism? She has such immense power in that way. What if all women were like that? What a terrifying world that would be for so many men.

That said, she’s absolutely capable of killing Steven without remorse or a second through which does suggest she’s a sociopath, but if you remove her ability to commit homicide with a totally clear conscious, I think Jane can be read as a character to aspire to.

For me this book is an A-. Aside from a slightly rushed ending, it was immensely satisfying, surprisingly empowering, and a story that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Sarah: This is always the challenge with joint reviews (though I am SO GLAD to have someone to talk about this book with FINALLY OMG). If you’re giving an A-, and I’m at a B, shall we average between them to a B+?

Elyse: That works for me.

Sarah: If you’re interested in this book, I hope y’all will come back and tell us your thoughts. I really want to know what you think!

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Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone

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  1. 1
    Beelzebubbles says:

    *sprains finger one-clicking so hard*

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    NB: Currently this book is $1.99 digitally, so if you’re curious, it’s on limited-time sale!

  3. 3
    Emily C says:

    “study of a woman who is completely freed from the anxieties and insecurities that stem from living in a patriarchal culture. “
    Elyse, this was the line in the review that had me. That’s such an interesting concept and reading of a suspense protagonist, that I was instantly intrigued.

    The joint review was one of the best I’ve read from the site, in that I’m fascinated to now pick up a book I would probably never have considered before. Thank you! Looking forward to it popping into my kindle tomorrow!

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    @Emily C: Thank you so much for that compliment. That means a lot! I hope you’ll let us know what you think of the book!

  5. 5
    Barb in Maryland says:

    Well, I’m first in the reserve queue at my library. Hope to have it soon. Great review!

  6. 6
    DonnaMarie says:

    I’m skipping the review, which I’m sure is as brilliant as always, to say STOP COPYING ME!! I am #1 on the reserve list & will be picking it up tomorrow morning.

    There are 11 books currently on the bedside pile, and there all going to go begging because I am that excited for this story. You know how people are saying they like to see themselves in the books they read….

  7. 7
    Paula says:

    Could not pre order quick enough! That was an intelligent,well thought our review. Many thanks!

  8. 8
    Kimberly Mueller says:

    I think that I injured my one-click finger! Thanks, great review:)

  9. 9
    Maureen says:

    What a great review! Sarah and Elyse, I’m wondering if you have watched Killing Eve? I binge watched it several weeks ago, and I remember at one point thinking of the Villanelle character, how free she must feel, emotionally. Not that I want to be a hired assassin, but it struck a chord with me, how much tiptoeing many women do through their lives, not wanting to cause other people inconvenience, not make waves, worrying about other people’s emotional health. This review brought up the same thoughts, and you both articulated them better than I ever could!

    As @EmilyC said, this probably isn’t a book I would usually buy-so thank you so much for the review-I’m looking forward to reading this.

  10. 10
    PamG says:

    I wasn’t planning to read this, though I really like the author’s other incarnations and am very happy for her impending mainstream success with this. However, this review completely convinced me to one-click.

    Oddly, one of the reasons I decided to get Jane Doe is my addiction to the Mallory series by Carol O’Connell. The main character is a possible sociopath, but she is a righteous badass and utterly fascinating. The series is set in NY and is an original and perhaps a mite improbable take on police procedurals, definitely NOT a romance. Don’t care; I love it.

  11. 11
    Critterbee says:

    Yes, Please!!

    Bought!

  12. 12
    Louise says:

    Raise your hand if your immediate reaction to the review was to dash out and look for online “Are you a sociopath?” tests. (Based on the response I got, I think I took the same test–and gave roughly the same answers–as Our Boss Bitch.)

  13. 13
    JenM says:

    It’s been awhile since I’ve one-clicked that quickly! Especially since the book isn’t out yet and I can’t read a sample. Still, it’s Victoria Dahl and I love her romances. This isn’t a book that otherwise would have come to my attention so my mind thanks you for the review even though my wallet doesn’t.

  14. 14
    Leigh Kramer says:

    I love her romance novels and everything she’s been saying on Twitter about Jane Doe has had me looking forward to this one for months! I can’t wait to dive in.

  15. 15
    Jenny says:

    Great review, ladies, thank you.
    This is on Kindle Unlimited in the UK. Just another 3.5 hours of work to get through before I can start this…

  16. 16
    Jen Creevy says:

    Thanks “Jenny says”! It’s on KU here in the USA. I just sped read this & I am a fan. IT WAS AMAZING! Definitely set aside time to read this whole because you won’t be able to put it down. I am Team Jane Doe all the way. Any readalikes? I saw the mystery series by Carol O’Connellmentio ed above. Has anyone ever read anything similar?

  17. 17
    Teev says:

    Just finished it and DAMN that was a fine read! I agree that the finale was a bit short, but you know cats. When they’re done playing, they’re done. I still give it an A because that was such an excellent execution of an original idea. I’ve not read another book like it (sorry Jen Creevy I have no readalikes).

    Over the years I’ve read a lot of wonderful books I never would have considered if not for the recs at this site. This is one of them. Thanks for the great work you ladies do.

  18. 18
    Adele Buck says:

    I devoured this book so fast. I’ve followed Victoria from her romances to suspense and have been really impressed with what she has been able to do (I still think about how audacious the structure of EVELYN AFTER was). But this was my hands-down favorite of the three she’s published so far.

  19. 19
    SB Sarah says:

    @Teev: You said, “you know cats. When they’re done playing, they’re done.” That is a perfect description. You’re so right.

    I’m so happy we’ve helped you find wonderful reads! Thank you.

  20. 20
    chacha1 says:

    The older I get, the more sociopathic I feel, and it may be only the fact that I was “well brought up” that keeps me from unleashing the scorched-earth policy that is burbling in my lizard brain.

    Definitely had to one-click this at the sale price. Can’t wait to read it. A little worried about the potential consequences, frankly. 🙂

  21. 21
    Maureen says:

    @Teev “When they’re done playing, they’re done.”

    I know Sarah already commented on this-but I finished this book today-AND HELL YES! Right now I’m a bit obsessed, I read this book way into the early hours, and only stopped because I kept falling asleep and dropping my kindle. Finished it today! Your comparison between Jane and a cat is so spot on-and I loved reading it.

    I have no tech skills, so potential spoilers. Seriously, if you are going to read this book stay away!

    Show Spoiler

    How do you love a sociopath? Well, I love Jane! Her sarcastic asides? Funny yet very poignant. I found the backstory of Luke very sympathetic, my own mother was very similar to his, and I definitely saw his attraction to Jane, who was calm and cool. The fact he loved the things she saw as a deficit in herself? Don’t we all want that? Someone who sees us, and accepts the worst of us, yet loves us anyway. Hearty sigh.

    So is it wrong that I took one of those sociopath quizzes, and I am so far from being one, that I am feeling a bit bad? Once again, I don’t want to be a sociopath, but I do admire people who don’t give a crap. I must admit I am getting totally into this topic-people who don’t necessarily want to kill people, but who aren’t confined by what is considered acceptable. I think I am enthralled by how much Jane does not give a crap about what other people think of her. Any time someone tries to shame her, she has that rock solid sense of self. It was so different from the book I read right before this one, where the heroine was so obsessed by her supposed lack of looks (drove me nuts), that having a narrator that felt every bit of her power? Awesome!

  22. 22
    Monique D says:

    Thanks to your review, I purchased this book, devoured it, and I hope there will be sequels. Fantastic book!

  23. 23
    Anony Miss says:

    So happy I read this based on your review!! Like the best fiction, it lets you be in an entirely different head than your own.

    I ran through the book like wildfire. Who needs to go grocery shopping anyway? Or – er – sleep?

    Her name being ‘Jane Doe’ I now DESPERATELY want a mash up of Jane Doe in the book Jane Eyre. Ohhhh how I’d love to see Jane Eyre act like Jane Doe….

  24. 24
    SB Sarah says:

    I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it, too! I’m listening to the audio now, and it’s stellar.

    And oh, my gosh, a Jane Eyre via Jane Doe…that would be chilling.

  25. 25
    SRRPNW says:

    After a year of Kavanaugh and #metoo I found this VERY cathartic. I sort of group it with the 9 to 5 movie, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is just so satisfying to have very bad people get what they deserve!! Thanks for the recommendation. THis had been in my queue for a while, and I finally listened to it. I want more of this, if there are any recommendations.

  26. 26
    Mog says:

    I really loved this book – but my reading was definitely that Jane has decided she is a sociopath as a way of dealing with her past and actually very intense emotions, and luckily it works out for her. She has too much introspection about her motivations, and too much care for the fates of certain people, to actually be a sociopath. I might be just projecting this into the book, but I think it’s a clue that she believes she treats her mum coldly and mercilessly, when really she is supporting the horrible selfish bat and just has very strong boundaries for her own self protection.

  27. 27
    Wub says:

    I love this book, although I’m listening to the sequel on audiobook and it fails to grip.

    Content warning: massive amounts of religious hypocrisy meet their comeuppance. I have at different times described myself as an atheist and a moderate Anglican in religious terms, so I sniggered unfeelingly throughout. The antagonists in this book are set squarely in the low-church Protestant white Evangelical movement, or at least that part of it that is a breeding-ground for misogyny and hypocrisy. Basically, the part whose pastors treat hating out-group people and fear of sexual “sin” as a religious duty. I’m just reporting this because I noticed one Goodreads review saying it was a bad book because it was against Christianity. It’s against a peculiarly harsh version of Christianity that’s popular in the US, not because of the religion but because of its cultural dominance (I read an article this week by a black woman who’d felt comfortable in her church until she spoke out against Trump, and suddenly she was very unwelcome. There does seem to be something specific about the white Evangelical church…)

    I think some people on the ASPD spectrum (with sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies) can do fine in society. Apparently a lot of surgeons have those qualities permitting them to cut up their fellow humans but they use their powers for good (this can go the other way; Dr Shipman, a British GP,, killed the most people of any UK serial killer because he was a doctor and left alone with old people, morphine, and the ultimate power over life and death). I read an autobiography called Confessions of a Sociopath: she had many impulses towards killing and violence, but had trained herself not to act on them, because if she went down that route it ended badly for everyone. So she skilfully imitated having a soul. She only cared about a few people close to her–she does read rather like Jane Doe.

    I assume the violent psychopaths we read about are the ones who didn’t find a way to cope in society.

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