Today’s review is of the recently published novella, Vector, by author J.J. Brown. She has previously published a collection of short stories titled Death and the Dream, which I reviewed here. Vector is her debut novel.
Wealthy philanthropist playboy Michael Barnes has just returned from Johannesburg, South Africa. His physician, Dr. Emmanuel Victor drops in on him at his upscale EastVillage apartment on the eve of the soirée they will be attending, a benefit of The Barnes Foundation at the Waldorf. Dr. Victor is privately concerned with Michael’s ability to put in the required appearance and deliver the expected speech. We quickly learn that, though Michael appears normal to the casual observer, his health is in serious decline.
The story is further complicated by the unexpected arrival of Michael’s protégé: the girl in the golden coat, beautiful young opera student Eva Mascona, who is secretly infatuated with Michael. As naive as Michael is worldly, Eva believes Michael is not a cowardly man. But will that faith in him, and her obsession, prove to be her undoing?
Dressed in a beautiful purple gown pilfered from the stage wardrobe at her music school she follows Michael to the charity ball.
Eva slunk back behind a column to collect herself. She watched and waited. Her eyes burned and welled up with tears as she observed them, keeping herself concealed behind the curtains. Eva followed Michael’s every move. She was waiting. Watching, waiting, following. She wanted to intercept him alone. She had to see him alone. All other thoughts were consumed by one, that she had to have his attention tonight.
Eva didn’t notice where she herself was going, absorbed in the game of tracking him. She was in love. She had been in love with him for so long that tonight, she decided, was the one time she would not let him slip away from her. Tonight she was Musetta, and tonight, she thought, with the desperation of the obsessed, she could have anyone.
In a plot that echoes La Bohème, the very opera Eva is soon to perform in her stage debut, Vector explores the inequities of poverty, health care and the availability of medicine, alongside the modern day plagues of hepatitis C and AIDS.
Beautifully written and tightly plotted, Vector draws the reader in to the very real seeming world of the characters, and subtly notches up the tension as each vivid character is drawn inexorably toward their fate.
Word Count: 51,000 words
This writer’s strengths: subtlety, brevity, voice, characterization, and the ability to float effortlessly between characters points of view. This writer knows how to approach and tell story. She is strong on craft and spareness, vividly detailed description that supports the overall theme of the novel, and dialogue that sounds natural and is dusted liberally with interesting facts.
Who will like this book: Anyone who loves a seamless, tension laden story told in classic literary style. Readers who enjoy deeply investigated characterization.
Self published score: 97 out of 100. Vector contains a few editing mishaps: mainly the misuse of ‘lie’ where the word should be ‘lay’, a suit which was hung up during a scene, then later appears on the floor. The physical production of the paperback is very good: it is made of quality stuff and the glossy cover is interesting and feels nice in the hand. The layout and formatting are up to traditional standards. It’s available as a paperback or as an e-book.
Vector is a very entertaining, satisfying read, and I highly recommend it.
J.J. Brown was born in upstate New York and has worked in New York City for two decades as a scientist, author, educator and now publisher. Brown’s current author site and blog is
She studied writing with South African poet Dennis Brutus and genetics with Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock, completing a PhD in Genetics on work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. The author has previously published in leading science journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Hepatology, and Genetics among others. Vector is her first published novel.