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MURDER ONLINE
by Beth Anderson
Clocktower Books, December 2000
232 pages
$14.25
ISBN: 0743300688


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Claire Jenson has just begun to recover from the loss of her husband to cancer a year earlier when another tragedy strikes. Her youngest daughter, True, who has been working in Chicago, has been murdered. It doesn't seem possible that this could happen, since True was all the good things that one would want in a daughter or a friend. It appears that she may have known her killer. In a weird twist, it is also found that she was raped after she was dead.

The police are very devoted to following the leads on the case, partially because the lead investigator, Marty Slade, feels a connection to Claire. Claire discovers a CD that True had sent to her sister, Lannie. When she looks at it, she finds that True was feeling threatened by someone she met in an online chat room. Feeling lonely in her apartment in Chicago, she mistakenly revealed details about herself to two men she met in chat rooms. And there was a third man with whom she was communicating as well. Did any of these men know her? Being online allows one to be invisible and to create a new persona. Was she being stalked? Could it have been her former boyfriend, Brian, who is now involved with Lannie?

Claire feels that it is up to her to expose these men with whom her daughter communicated in such intimate terms. She goes on to the Internet and tries to draw them out, much to Slade's chagrin. He feels that she is endangering herself and that the killer may know where she lives. It's certainly a dangerous and foolhardy action to undertake. This to me was a major weakness in the book. Claire was essentially an intelligent and solid woman, and it seemed forced that she so stubbornly pursued this strategy. The central premise of the book, that a person from a Chat room would stalk and kill someone he had conversed with online, was interesting and relevant. However, the execution of the plot around that premise was sometimes clumsily done. The online „chats¾ between Claire and the various suspects didn't ring true to me and the idea that finding the perpetrator could be based on a laser printer print-out was a bit of a stretch as well.

I like Anderson's writing style, which is very readable and smooth. The weakest area of the book for me had to do with the plot. The ultimate villain was introduced quite late in the book, which didn't feel fair. One of the suspects is apprehended quite near the crime scene later in the book and released because Marty has a gut feeling that he didn't do it. Huh? Although I liked the character of Claire, she had some supremely irritating moments that seemed inconsistent with her overall characterization as a strong and intelligent woman. The portrayal of the police procedures as practiced by the local police department didn't seem believable either. The chief, whose son is a suspect, goes so far as to refuse to go to Claire's home when requested by a fellow officer and throws away a key piece of evidence.

One of Anderson's strengths is her ability to let her story evolve naturally. For example, there is a certain attraction between the victim's mother and the investigating police officer. Anderson lets this develop in a realistic way without falling into clichÈs and silliness. She writes dialogue extremely well in a way that sounds conversational and real. I thought the characterization was wonderfully done. Claire is first of all a mother, and she has certain values that are important to her and that she demonstrates throughout the book. The investigation part of the book is handled well, too, as Slade takes care not to tell Claire things that she is not supposed to know, a complaint I have about many amateur sleuth books where the lead character is involved with the investigator. Anderson is a skillful writer, and the book moves along. You may very well feel wary about going online again and conversing with strangers after reading this book.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, August 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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