What a plot! Barbara Ross is on her game. This second book in the Jane Darrowfield series, Jane Darrowfield And The Madwoman Next Door, kicks the series into overdrive. It reminded me a bit of an Agatha Raisin novel, if only Agatha lived in the Boston suburbs and cut out excessive drinking, smoking, and getting a man. Jane isn’t as abrasive as Agatha, but she likes her independence, can get testy when her friends involve themselves too much in her business, and is an independent business woman who solves “lesser” crimes.
This series is an experiment for Barnes & Noble, where it is exclusively sold in paperback form only. It’s seems like they are targeting a specific audience, but they really need to think about also putting it out in electronic format because the book is such a page turner they are inhibiting their own sales. To pick up a copy, go to: Barnes & Noble The book was released yesterday.
Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK. E. B. Davis
When next-door neighbor Megan asks Jane to determine if she is crazy, why does Jane hesitate from taking the job?
Jane’s services as a professional busybody are sometimes difficult for prospective clients to understand. Jane has no training of any kind as a therapist and she doesn’t want Megan to believe she’s in a position to evaluate her mental health. Once Megan promises to seek professional help if Jane determines there are no external causes for her symptoms, Jane agrees to take the case.
Why are Jane’s neighbors disappointed in Megan as a neighbor?
Jane’s neighborhood has undergone numerous transitions since she and her bridge-playing friends moved in decades ago. As home prices have increased, the neighborhood has gone from single-earner families to high-earning power couples to foreign investors who are rarely in residence. Jane’s neighbors have nothing against Megan, who is single, but they are always hoping for families with kids.
Megan doesn’t own a car. How far is it from Cambridge to downtown Boston? Is the area mass transit really great? Jane sure seems to use her car a lot.
It’s not unusual for members of Megan’s generation in metro Boston not to have a car. Megan can walk about a mile to the Red Line subway stop in Harvard Square, or she can take a bus or trackless trolley if the weather is bad or she has a lot to carry. She uses her bike frequently but can also use a car service like Lyft or Uber or a short-term car rental like Zip Car if she needs to. Jane uses her car far more, but she also takes the subway when she goes to downtown Boston.
There is a theme of generational estrangement in this book. Have you experienced or have knowledge of this phenomenon?
Personally, fortunately no, though I have observed it from both the kids’ side and the parents’ side in friends and acquaintances. Estrangement from one’s parents is an unusual situation and very hard on everyone involved, no matter how much one party or the other might perceive it to be necessary.
Jane narrows down the reasons for Megan’s symptoms. One could be toxic black mold. Can black mold account for many of Megan’s symptoms?
Usually issues like sick building syndrome result in mild, allergy-like symptoms. However, in rare cases, toxic black mold can attack the central nervous system causing poor concentration, depression, irritability, confusion, sleep disorders, anxiety and hallucinations. Megan has reported some of these, especially sleep disorders and things that seem like they must be hallucinations, as reasons she is worried about her mental health
How is it that people can sense when they are being watched?
What an interesting question. All of us have experienced the phenomenon of feeling someone was watching us and have turned around to discover an old acquaintance, or someone who is sure we are someone else or, the worst, someone wanting to tell us we have toilet paper stuck to our shoe. I don’t know how it works. Do we catch something out of the corner of our eye that our brain needs time to process? And how many times is someone looking and we don’t turn around? We can never know.
Another possibility for Megan’s symptoms could be gaslighting. It isn’t a new term. What is it? Where did the term originate? Hitchcock and Betty Davis?
The term gaslighting comes from a Hitchcock-era play and two movies, one British and one American titled Gaslight. The US version of the movie (1944) was directed by George Cukor and stars Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton and an eighteen-year-old Angela Lansbury making her screen debut. The story is set in 1880s London, and one of the things the main character experiences is seeing the gaslights in her home surge and dim. Her husband assures her it isn’t happening and that it’s one of many symptoms of her failing mental health. Manipulating people to believe they’re not seeing, hearing, or experiencing things they actually are is now called gaslighting.
I was surprised that Megan seems so naïve and less than tech-savvy. Why? Is everyone to a certain extent naïve? Do we think of ourselves as less than worthy of someone’s deviousness?
I think Megan is probably very savvy about the tech she needs to do her job and about social media as well. But she’s a busy attorney on the partner track at her law firm and she hasn’t taken much of an interest in the security system in her home, which was installed by the developer. She’s in “set it and forget it” mode with it.
I do think a lot of us have trouble believing someone we know, and perhaps even trust, wishes us harm and is actively working against us. I have a tendency to take people at face value and they have to lose my trust rather than earn it.
Why are foreign nationals buying up homes in Jane’s neighborhood? Is this a common practice in suburbs of large cities in the US?
Yes, I think most big cities and close-in suburbs around the world have experienced this. Foreign nationals buy the properties as investments, but also to move money out of their own countries which may have totalitarian regimes whose future actions can’t be predicted. Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Jane lives has many boarding schools and universities in the area, and sometimes the kids of these investors stay in the properties during school breaks. However, mostly the houses are empty.
Is there danger in having the same company install and service security systems in the same neighborhood?
I think neighbors often recommend their favorite services to others, and contractors develop preferences for reliable, economical vendors they use over and over, so this happens often.
Why can’t we cross Andy off the suspects list? Is there such a thing as being too nice?
Jane’s friend Detective Alvarez of the Cambridge Police Department thinks that Andy is overly interested in Megan’s case. Andy insists Megan is missing when she’s only been out of touch for a couple of hours. He drives down Megan’s narrow, winding street way too often and always seems to turn up when something big happens in the case. Detective Alvarez finds this behavior very concerning.
What did Jane do that her son needed to take a ten-year break from her? He never gave her a reason? What does Jane’s intuition say?
I’ve gotten more specific about this with each book, but I am not ready to disclose yet.
Harry, Jane’s special someone (she can’t abide the term boyfriend), wants and hints at getting closer. Why does Jane hesitate?
Jane’s marriage ended very badly a quarter century earlier, but a bigger consideration is those twenty-five years she’s spent on her own. She’s used to running her own life and not used to the kind of compromises a long-term romantic relationship requires. Can she change? Does she want to?
Why after Jane sends Detective Alvarez on two false alarm clues does he still keep her in the loop?
Alvarez has learned to trust Jane on some previous cases, and in this situation, as time ticks on, he’s desperate for a solution. Leads that don’t pan out are better than no leads at all.
Do you have a security system? After writing this book were you paranoid? After Zoom meetings, I wonder if someone is looking at me through my own laptop camera. I’m hesitating to buy a smart TV because they’ll view us in the living room. Since I don’t watch much TV, this isn’t as much of a problem for me. Is big brother, or his notoriously delinquent son, now a part of our lives?
We do have a security system, and like Megan, we inherited it from a previous owner. It has a lot more functionality than I think we need. Like Megan, I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the system. It’s become my husband’s domain, so I totally get how a malicious partner or ex-partner could use the system to torment an unsuspecting victim. Thank goodness my husband has no such motives.
I don’t think there’s anything about my life that’s interesting enough to attract the attention of Big Brother (except maybe some of the internet searches I do for my mysteries), but I know I’m interesting to A LOT of corporations that want to sell me stuff. It’s one of those trade-offs we make in modern life.
In the end, all of Jane’s theories weren’t totally on the mark even though she figures it out. She also blames herself for triggering the entire crime. Will Jane rise again to solve another problem?
Good question! I hope so. I’m sure she’ll continue her professional busybody business and we’ll see where that leads.