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Two books, one story …

Hot Key Editor Emma Matthewson talks here about one of the first books to cross her desk at Hot Key Books…

Today is so exciting as I have in my hands the book proof for the extraordinary Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy.   It really makes publication seem so much closer when proofs start arriving. But Anne’s clear-eyed and compelling story of Jennifer Jones – a girl who committed a terrible crime when only 10 years old – has had a longer gestation than most. Because Finding Jennifer Jones is the long-awaited, much-asked-for sequel to Looking for JJ, a book that was published nearly 10 years ago.

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Looking for JJ was one of those books that you just had to read when it came out all those years ago. When I heard what it was about – a 10 year old girl killing her best friend – I have to confess I was uncertain. But everybody said it was so good, and my reluctance was overcome. And when I did read it, I realised why it was so good. This was a subject that in the wrong hands could have been clumsy and overtly headline grabbing. Instead what is offered is both a clear-eyed and yet, within Anne’s naturally spare narrative style, a surprisingly tender portrayal.  Not many writers could have tackled this subject and written a book that made you sit back once the last page was turned and think, and think, and think.

In both Looking for JJ and Finding Jennifer Jones Anne Cassidy clearly and unflinchingly examines the different parts of Jennifer’s life and slowly unfurls them for the reader. No excuses are made for Jennifer’s crime, but an understanding evolves and with it a sympathy for Jennifer. Who, after all, cannot remember the sense of fury and rage at an actual or perceived slight as a child? Who has not given their sibling a furious push in a fit of anger? Mercifully an act of childhood rage usually results in nothing more than tears. With Jennifer it was different and an act that she had to atone for – she had after all taken a life.

That idea of atonement, of paying for your crime, is something that Jennifer has – in the eyes of the law at least – completed. She has served her time in an institution and is now at liberty, under an assumed identity. But by the end of Looking for JJ  it is clear that Jennifer, now a teenager, is still struggling to come to terms with what she did and the stress of living under an assumed name. What will happen to Jennifer after that last page has been turned? Will she be able to make a life for herself in Finding Jennifer Jones? Does she deserve to?

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The new 10th anniversary cover for Looking for JJ, sitting beautifully alongside the cover for Finding Jennifer Jones, publication date February 2014

Many of the readers who had read about her were emotionally invested in her, and wanted to know how her life would unfold.When I first met Anne and started working with her as her editor, it was with her brilliant thriller series, The Murder Notebooks (the third book, Butterfly Grave, is out in November by the way). Crime, murder and death were clearly a theme for Anne and of course it was not long before we talked about Looking for JJ. Anne said that she couldn’t see a way of writing another book for Jennifer because she couldn’t see a way out for her. A terrible thing for any fan of Looking for JJ to hear, of course! But whenever Anne was doing events for The Murder Notebooks, the questions kept coming about Jennifer Jones.

So it was doubly surprising when one of the first calls I had on my arrival at Hot Key Books was from Anne’s agent saying that Anne had an idea for a book – and that the idea was for a new book about Jennifer Jones, and what happened next.

After all these years Anne had found  a way to write something more for Jennifer. Anne had found a path for her…

In Finding Jennifer Jones, Jennifer (now Kate Rickman) is at university but she is still struggling to maintain a normal life. Her crime is still clawing away at her. With every page more details are uncovered about Jennifer’s life with her mother and the circumstances that led to her crime. And the question is raised: can you ever truly pay for the taking of another’s life? A prison sentence is one thing, but what about your own conscience? What about the people around you? The general public?  Is it possible to work out who you are when living a life of lies under an assumed identity?

When I finished reading Anne’s final draft of Finding Jennifer Jones, it was one of those goosebump moments. So much about Jennifer and her life, past, present and future, is revealed. I found it a richly rewarding and hugely thought-provoking window into Jennifer’s life. Looking for JJ  and Finding Jennifer Jones are not so much two separate books as one incredibly  satisfying story – albeit a story that has taken 10 years to write. But don’t good things happen to those who wait?