In 1992, Emily Winslow was raped while a college student in Pittsburgh . Two decades later, after she had moved to Cambridge, England, and become a successful crime novelist and mother of two, Winslow learns that there’s DNA evidence linking the attack to a man arrested on a drug charge in New York. It turns out the man had raped another woman in Pittsburgh, just months after he attacked Winslow.
Stunned by this flood of information, Winslow decides to turn it into a mystery book, “Jane Doe January.” This time, of course, it’s not fiction, and the consequences are far more personal.
Fueled by anger and curiosity, Winslow musters her strength and her investigative chops to learn all she can about the man who has been charged in her rape and will, she
hopes, finally stand trial and serve time. After finding out his name — Arthur Fryar — she does an image search and up comes an eerily familiar face. “His chubby cheeks make me flinch,” she writes. “I find his Facebook page, but I don’t dare friend him to see what he’s posted even though I’m desperate for information.”
She tracks down his sister, also on Facebook, and gasps at the family photographs that seem to portray her attacker as a happy man, “smiling with friends, seeming to be on his way to a prom, or maybe a wedding.” Winslow wonders how, unlike the characters in her novels who do bad things, this man — who really did do a bad thing — can seem so content. “I think: How dare you?”
Via Skype and email, Winslow establishes frequent communication with both current and past officials in Pittsburgh involved with her case. Using LinkedIn, she locates the detective who first interviewed her in the hospital after her rape. Now that she knows who Fryar is, Winslow thinks she can learn “what urged him on, what directed him to me, and what he got out of [the rape],” knowledge she’d find “electrifying.”
Through Googling she learns that her father and Fryar’s share the same name. She learns courtroom jargon: Prior Record Score, or PRS; Guideline Ranges, what judges use in sentencing; and statutory limits (which turns out to be a deciding factor in her case). She learns the name of Fryar’s first Pittsburgh victim: a woman she calls Georgia to protect her identity.
Winslow discovers that transcripts of her pretrial testimony can be imprecise or wrong, but reading over hers, she’s happy that her f-bomb was not redacted. After compiling a record of Fryar’s arrests and incarcerations, she suspects detectives had kept this information from her; she becomes enraged and driven for more answers.
These passages are suspenseful, fast-paced and full of legal complications, like an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.”
But unfortunately, after learning that the trial is postponed, Winslow becomes strangely vindictive — not toward Fryar, but toward Georgia: “I bet that she’s doing what’s expected: recoiling from the case, trying to avoid anything more to do with it. I feel like she’s the kind of victim that the system is designed around,” someone who is “a lot easier to deal with.” These jabs at Georgia escalate, as do others directed toward women in the book. Winslow faults her English friends for their reserved responses when she tells them about the rape and coming trial and is angry at female lawyers and judges she sees as unsympathetic to her situation.
There’s an odd jealousy of Georgia that makes much of the book uncomfortable to read. “The other victim is going to get it all,” Winslow writes, “a solemn courtroom, a sympathetic jury, an avenging judge. . . She matters. I’m still the beggar I’ve been for two decades.”
Winslow deserves our sympathy and respect, especially given that Arthur Fryar is a free man today. But regardless of her honesty, Winslow’s self-focus is alienating. Georgia, on the other hand, haunts me — what is her story, I wonder? There are millions of Georgias in this world. Look it up.
Sibbie O’Sullivan is a writer on the arts who lives in Wheaton.