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The Collective


The Collective

Harris Blanchard is about to accept a Humanitarian Award from the prestigious Brayburn Club in Manhattan. As he is called up to the podium, a middle-aged woman --- fueled by a mix of alcohol and anxiety medication --- attempts to rush him while screaming out threats like “Murderer!” before she is stopped by members of the audience. She spends the next several hours in jail waiting to be bailed out by her close friend, Luke.

Her name is Camille Gardener, and she is the mother of an only child. A few years earlier, 15-year-old Emily was allegedly raped and then left to die in the cold behind a fraternity house by one of its brothers, Harris Blanchard. As a result, Camille lost not only her daughter but also her marriage to Matt, a relationship that was tenuous at best following the tragedy.

"Gaylin has penned a terrific psychological thriller that pulls at our heartstrings and plays to one of our basest instincts --- the desire for revenge against our enemies."

At one point, Camille describes what she is feeling: “You know how certain people with missing limbs say that it hurts even more after the amputation? That’s what it’s like for some of us who lose children. There’s nothing you can do to make that pain go away and you know that. It’ll just get worse and worse until you can’t feel anything at all.”

Alison Gaylin does such an impressive job of drawing out the complex emotions Camille experiences that it will be impossible for readers not to be moved by her plight. Revenge, perhaps, is only justifiable in the case of losing a family member, which is at the heart of THE COLLECTIVE. I am particularly moved by the book because I have a seven-year-old daughter, and the nightmarish turn of events that Camille endures is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night as I watch my little girl grow up.

Once Camille is escorted from her night in jail, she is approached by someone she initially takes to be a reporter. The woman is actually a concerned citizen who claims to understand what Camille is going through, and she slips a business card into her hand that simply reads “Niobe.” Luke immediately recognizes the name from Greek mythology as the wife of a king who is grieving over her lost children. Perhaps this group can help Camille find some calm, and the ability to move on or better deal with Emily’s death.

Camille ends up visiting the Niobe website and finds like-minded women there talking about both their grief and desire for revenge against those who cost them their loved ones. She is reluctant to share her story at first, but then the floodgates open. One lady asks if she can ever forgive the young man who did this to Emily, and she admits that nothing would make her happier than to have him dead. User 0001 eventually shares with Camille that they can “make that happen” if she’s interested.

To that end, Camille is given a series of anonymous tasks to complete --- almost like a scavenger hunt --- around the Hudson Valley. Once finished, she will have helped out other members of the group within Niobe known as the Collective, and in exchange someone will take care of her problem. Think of it as a virtual version of Patricia Highsmith’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

Camille ends up discovering the identity of another woman in the group, Wendy, and the two come together for their own Collective mission. She learns much from Wendy, including the ability to be callous and complete her tasks without thinking twice, knowing that the ends justify their means. It is while she is out with Wendy that she hears about Blanchard’s death in a skiing accident and that there was evidence he sexually assaulted another young woman.

Camille is obsessed with learning everything she can about the Collective, but when a billionaire is killed for his crimes, she feels guilty about it and unsure if she is doing the right thing. Wendy must show her evidence of this man’s sordid past and his involvement in the death of the innocent. She continues to have trepidation about the Collective but quickly finds out that once you’re in, there may be no safe way of getting out.

Gaylin has penned a terrific psychological thriller that pulls at our heartstrings and plays to one of our basest instincts --- the desire for revenge against our enemies. THE COLLECTIVE runs forward at a furious pace, and readers will find it impossible not to relate to Camille and everything she is going through during this intense narrative.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 12, 2021

The Collective
by Alison Gaylin