USA Today and international bestselling author Alison Gaylin has won the Edgar and Shamus awards, and has been nominated for many more, including the ITW Thriller, the Strand Book Award, the Anthony and the Macavity. She is currently at work on her 12th novel.
Interview by Elise Cooper
Trigger warning: sexual assault
Q. How did you get the idea for the story?
Alison: I am the mother of a daughter. Regardless of if your child was attacked, beaten, or killed, parents want justice. The system has let people down. I wanted to tap into the readers emotions of fear, rage, and grief. Hopefully this story makes people think of incidents in real life.
Q. Just recently in the news there was a woman raped on a Philadelphia subway, and in Virginia a father was enraged when his daughter was raped in a school bathroom. Care to comment?
Alison: This is terrible. The focus should be that they were raped, and no other issue should muddy it up. I try to address in the book how someone doing a violent crime on another person should not get off. There is such inequity in our system and so many feel wronged. People can imagine how The Collective could prevail and take justice into their own hands.
Q. So, this is a thriller more than a mystery?
Alison: It is my first high concept thriller. A grieving mother’s life changes when she meets like-minded people in a group on the dark web who shared her rage. I think this is my scariest book with a dark ending. I wrote it during the pandemic where I had these feelings of being powerless and trapped, which found its way into my writing.
Q. How would you describe The Collective?
Alison: A group that believes in vigilante justice, the thin line between justice and vengeance. They are fueled by a “collective” rage. If there is anything scarier than an angry person, it is a group of angry people. They want justice for their children. It is like an organism.
Q. What about the theme?
Alison: The question of the book is, should someone give in to their consumed anger? Does it do any good to give into it? I tried to make Camille’s emotions as real as possible. The Collective’s quest for justice consumed them with their own loss and grief. The people seeking justice became as ugly as the perpetrators.
Q. How would you describe Camille?
Alison: Broken. The loss of her child changed her where she now leads a bleak existence. It is hard for her to move on. She is no longer the glamorous happy woman she once was. She has this unhealed wound that makes her powerless and insecure.
Q. What about this quote? “They need to be punished to feel guilt, and then they’re never punished, so they never do.”
Alison: Some of the killings are poetic. The ways the perpetrator dies shows what they did. When you lose someone, you lose your footing. The Collective women are in this state forever, having all their perspective gone. The wound keeps fostering, getting uglier and uglier.
Q. Why the Winnie the Pooh quote?
Alison: You must be referring to this one, “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.” This was put on Emily’s gravesite by her dad. He coped with her death by viewing her as a little girl and wanting her to be a little girl forever. He feels guilty because he let her go to the party where she died. He deals with her death by focusing on her childhood.
Q. Why the “Bachelor” TV show?
Alison: I am a fan and proud of this guilty pleasure. One of Camille’s assignments for The Collective was to go to a bachelor viewing party in a bar. Instead of sports these women watched this show. Ultimately it was put in because it gave her a reason to be somewhere. It was a date holder, February 2022. It was an opportunity for me to have fun.
Q. Wasn’t what Blanchard did to Emily statutory rape?
Alison: He thought she was older than she was. He claims she misled him and that he did not know her actual age. His skilled expensive legal team was able to get him off.
Q. What’s next?
Alison: The working title is The Target. A woman who is a teacher has her past life catch up with her. In her earlier life she was an actress and is now the target of an online smear campaign that tied her to the death of an actor. It will be out this time next year.
Review by Elise Cooper
The Collective by Alison Gaylin delves into a parent’s worst nightmare, losing a child at the hands of someone else. There are a lot of moral gray areas in this one that make readers’ think about the very fine line between justice and revenge. Gaylin does a good job examining which is right, vengeance or getting justice. The idea: how far will a mother go to right a tragic wrong.
Readers meet Camille Gardener, a grieving and angry mother who lost her fifteen-year-old daughter, Emily five years ago. She is obsessed that Emily’s accused killer, Harris Blanchard, never faced any consequences for his actions. After being approached by a woman and handed a card, Camille decides to go on the dark web to join a group called The Collective. This group is made up of other mothers who have been wronged and want justice. The online collective shares their stories of loss with graphic depictions of revenge on those they think were not sufficiently punished. Camille feels she has finally found an outlet for her anger. Readers understand there are issues of grief, revenge, hatred, and a justice system that can be navigated by the rich and powerful.
What Camille is constantly living with is how her daughter Emily was given alcohol, taken into the woods by Blanchard, raped, and left to fend for herself on a bitter cold January night. By the time she was found, she was suffering from exposure, and died there days later. After the culprit was acquitted, Camille got a divorce, and she never was able to overcome her grief and anger.
There is a twisted ending that will leave readers floored as Camille struggles to understand if having all that rage is something beneficial. This thriller is filled with loss, grief, and merciless revenge.
Alison Gaylin's Latest
Just how far will a grieving mother go to right a tragic wrong?
Camille Gardner is a grieving—and angry—mother who, five years after her daughter’s death, is still obsessed with the privileged young man she believes to be responsible.
When her rash actions attract the attention of a secret group of women—the collective— Camille is drawn into a dark web where these mothers share their wildly different stories of loss as well as their desire for justice in a world where privilege denies accountability and perpetrators emerge unscathed. Fueled by mutual rage, these women orchestrate their own brand of justice through precise, anonymous, complexly plotted and perfectly executed revenge killings, with individual members completing a specific and integral task in each plan.
As Camille struggles to comprehend whether this is a role-playing exercise or terrifying reality, she must decide if these women are truly avenging angels or monsters. Becoming more deeply enmeshed in the group, Camille learns truths about the collective—and about herself—that she may not be able to survive.
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