Review: “Problem Child,” Victoria Helen Stone

Rating: 5 out of 5

Victoria Helen Stone’s Problem Child (A Jane Doe Thriller) is a fascinating follow-on to her Jane Doe. In that book, we met Jane, a complete sociopath who had oriented her entire current life around trying to take revenge for her best (only) friend’s death. In the process she gets together with an old boyfriend, adopts a cat, and finds a way to turn her curiosity and self-centeredness into almost-positive qualities. She may not be capable of “normal” love, but she still gets something out of her relationships. In this volume, Jane finds out she has a teenaged niece, Kayla, who may be just like her–another sociopath. But her niece has gone missing, and almost no one in her poor town cares to look for her. It’s also possible she’s been strong-armed into sex-work. Jane is fascinated that there might be another person like her in their family, and sets out to find Kayla.

It’s fascinating to watch Jane go home–we learned some things about her childhood in the previous book, but now we get to see how her parents and even high school teachers respond to her. We also see how obsessive she can get once something altogether random has triggered her curiosity.

There are plenty of books where a strong woman has to go be a detective, but most of those characters are detectives, and they care about the law. Jane is a lawyer and only cares about whether the things she does can get her caught. This makes for a different dynamic than usual and a much less predictable search.

The Jane Doe books do differ from the typical thrillers examining the views of a sociopath. Jane goes well beyond the stereotype, and deviates from it in important respects. She’s impulsive, and virtually incapable of denying herself something she wants unless waiting will get her something better. Sometimes she wants to feel what others feel, or at least to understand better. She isn’t a serial killer (yet?), and she doesn’t have a whole lot of patience for plotting and planning–unless it gets her what she really wants.

There are definitely some similarities between Kayla and Jane, and some interesting differences as well. Don’t mistake Jane’s search for Kayla as indicative of any kind of familial bond. Jane is just satisfying her curiosity, and she really wants to see whether Kayla is capable of the kinds of grander manipulations Jane is.

The pacing is great; this isn’t a high-paced action novel, but there’s definitely some tension. Jane is one of my recent favorite main characters to read about.

Content note for discussions about/memories of molestation and sexual assault.

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