Justice or Murder?

Author: Alison Gaylin

Have you ever wanted revenge so desperately, that you didn’t care about the costs? Have you ever wanted justice to the degree that it consumes your every day, and all your thoughts are of bloody death, of tearing away life and happiness as it was torn away from you? For Camille Gardner, this desire is more than an obsession. It’s a trap.

Camille’s grief became rage. She lost her daughter to a careless frat boy, who raped her and left her to die in the snow. But the world sees only a glowing boy with money and promise. There is no payback, no reprisal. The boy and his family go on, good name intact, awards and country clubs a daily part of life. And Camille? Camille detonates her life, what remains of her family, and her health. She stalks and follows, until one day a mysterious woman gives her a card that changes everything.

Online, there is a group of mothers seeking their own form of justice. It’s a society, a collective, on the dark web. To join, you must agree to strict silence, to do what you are told, and to never talk of forgiveness. It’s a world of angry women, scorned and bitter, talking about death and violence, working together to create alibies and innovative murders. It’s perfect for Camille . . . that is, until it’s not. Until her involvement leads to questions, to a nascent conscience. But can you really thwart a group built on rage and murder? What happens when your rage turns lukewarm and theirs remains searingly hot?

The Collective is an entertaining thriller, one that soars on its plot. Camille comes to us, so full of hate and crazed fury, that despite all that she has endured, it is impossible to like her. Her personality, her humanness was consumed long before the story started. She is a thing of carnage and obsession, often pitiful, sometimes dangerous, but never especially human anymore.

Of course, she has one person in her life, and it’s a weird, staged friendship. A young man received the donation of her dead daughter’s heart, and together they have formed a weird, dependent friendship. Camille literarily shows up at his apartment late, cuddling with him on the couch, listening to his heartbeat as she sleeps. His girlfriend is weirdly okay with it. It’s bizarre. Who would sign up for that kind of friendship? Who would believe that it would persist, uncomplicated, naively childlike?

Image by 4657743 from Pixabay

Of course, The Collective is a book that demands suspension of belief in a lot of different ways – the ease of navigation to the dark web, the fact that these online women found and managed something so complicated without any hints of betrayal or publicity, Camille’s sudden change of heart. But . . . who cares. It’s entertaining, in the way of those twisty, intense, trust-no-one thrillers. It’s a beach read with a decent premise, and that’s good enough.

The story is slow, especially for a thriller, but it is well written, and it does get there eventually. I’d actually have liked more scenes with Camille acting for the Collective (as averse to the one active murder that we get.) But . . . still, it is entertaining with enough twists (wow, that ending) that it keeps us steadily reading, steadily wondering. And although it wasn’t believable, I did like the change of conscience and how it was done as Camille confronted the reality of this brutal “justice.”

All in all, I enjoyed The Collective. It’s standard thriller fair, but sometimes that is exactly what you need: something dark, a little out there, a little unbelievable, oscillating between violence and compassion and dredging up all those fearful emotions of grief and love. I enjoyed this book, and I’ll probably read more Alison Gaylin in the future.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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