Amy thinks that Jeff, her prison pen pal, will be inside for several years. He lied - his release date is imminent. She believes that he’s a gentle, misunderstood young man. She’s wrong - he’s a killer who plans to kill again. Will she realise that she’s being stalked by a sadistic psychopath? Or will she, too, endure a slow, painful death?

Men behind bars can make excellent letter writers for female pen pals. Occasionally these relationships continue successfully when the inmate is released, but more often the woman ends the relationship when the man is due for parole as she wants the romantic ideal of a relationship without the day to day reality.

Sob Story examines what happens when Amy, a shy student who has just started a course at the University of Dundee, starts to correspond with Jeff, an inmate at Maidstone Prison. They’re both trapped by circumstances but have very different ways of dealing with this. Amy tries to control her world by restricting what she eats and by exercising excessively. Jeff’s solution is to indulge his strangling fetish and ultimately kill. Released on parole, he immediately travels to Dundee to surprise his innocent but naïve pen pal - and suddenly she, and every other woman who crosses his path, is in jeopardy...

Paperback original published February 2007 by Snowbooks.
ISBN: 1-905005-33-4    ISBN13: 978-1-905005-33-8    Priced £7.99

Sob Story Reviews:

Amy Bartlett is leaving home to study at university in another city. She is a solitary girl who finds it difficult to make friends and is on the path to a serious eating disorder when she encounters Barbara, an older woman, who encourages her to write to Jeff, Barbara’s son. Amy is reluctant at first because Jeff is in prison but Barbara reassures her that his conviction was all Jeff’s girlfriend’s fault. Amy doesn’t know that he is serving a sentence for almost strangling his girlfriend to death and only Jeff knows whether he has killed before.

As the term goes on Amy becomes more isolated from the other students. Eventually she writes to Jeff and as their correspondence continues she comes to think of him as her pen pal, an educated man whose letters make her feel better. She doesn’t know that he is hiding a dangerous psychotic personality and on his release, which is due very soon, he intends to pay Amy a visit.

This is a very dark psychological thriller which grips from the opening pages. Carol Anne Davis skilfully deals with a number of serious issues including eating disorders, social isolation and predators grooming their victims. There is detailed and realistic development of the characters as they approach a climax that you feel is inevitable. You can almost hear the music from Jaws playing in your head, but the author still has some unexpected twists to the plot up her sleeve as you hurtle towards a satisfying ending.

Elaine Warden, Mystery Women newsletter, April 2008

Insecure and socially awkward Amy Bartlett finds it hard to adjust to her first term at Dundee University. Then she meets Barbara, an older women on a related course who persuades her she'd be the perfect pen pal for son Jeff. He's a sweet and sensitive boy after all, but languishing in gaol, the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Barbara doesn't know her son very well at all, however. In reality, Jeff is a highly disturbed sexual predator with a throttling obsession who lives to target the vulnerable.

Davis really knows how to keep the reader engrossed. Her latest is a real page turner, coming at you with a ruthless pace generated by brutally short chapters and shifting character perspectives. These neatly trace Amy's failure to connect with her fellow students and flatmate and her growing reliance upon the companionship of Jeff's letters, letters tailored very much to what he thinks she wants to hear. All he can think about, meanwhile, is grooming the girl into his newest sex-slave in time for parole. And to Amy's cost, that day is far closer than Jeff has let on.

Anyone familiar with the author's true crime accounts and other novels will know they are informed by the pathology underpinning extreme violence and Sob Story is no exception. For all his monstrous behaviour Jeff too is a victim, of childhood abuse, and this element goes some way in filling out a character to which most will find it hard to relate. The book is also a subtle exploration of the psychology of women who enter into contact with men behind bars, the loneliness – which Davis brilliantly evokes – and emotional immaturity driving them, the self-deceptions required to maintain these relationships despite all good advice. An intelligent and exciting read, Sob Story will have you hooked. White knuckle stuff.

Jack Lawrence, Forum magazine web site

Amy Bartlett is a shy nineteen-year-old from Aberdeen, starting university in Dundee. She is also on the road to a serious eating disorder, and her fear of food compounds her shyness: Amy is unable to make friends and avoids social gatherings where she will be tempted by food.

As a result, she’s just the kind of girl who is lonely, and needy enough to start writing to a prisoner. After all, she’s met Jeff’s mother, and she’s a nice lady, and says Jeff didn’t do anything serious, so what’s the harm?

Jeff is one seriously disturbed individual. In prison for almost strangling his ex-girlfriend to death, he’s been able to play the model prisoner while still feeding his own twisted fantasies and, literally, getting away with murder.

What Amy doesn’t know is that Jeff is getting out of prison soon, and he has her address…

This is a book with all the hallmarks to make it my kind of read. It’s dark, disturbing, set in Scotland (one of my favourite places on earth) and Davis has an impressive list of publishing credits, including true crime and fiction.

There is a lot of time spent in character development, and a long time is spent setting the stage for what you know is inevitable. It was a bit of a slow start but once the story clicked for me I couldn’t put it down. Although you feel you know what’s going to happen Davis keeps you guessing about the outcome and throws in some nice twists. This book is not meant to be an action-packed thriller, but it is an intense psychological thriller that builds up to a nail- biting level of suspense that kept me turning the pages late into the night.

I think the reason Sob Story required a bit of an adjustment was that it was such an intense psychological study. In a way, this book is far more about twisted minds. Amy’s social and eating problems, and her resulting therapy, are well developed. A person could learn as much about what starts some girls down the road to anorexia as they could about what contributes to sexual deviancy through Jeff. The characters are completely believable.

This book could also serve as a commentary on how the criminal justice system is failing to properly identify dangerous offenders who pose a risk to others if released. It underscores the fact that not enough is being done to properly screen these people when they’re sentenced.

Davis doesn’t pull any punches and weaves a convincing tale that is frighteningly believable. Anyone who likes dark psychological thrillers should check out her work – this is an author I definitely want to see more from.

Sandra Ruttan, Spinetingler magazine web site

Lonely and vulnerable, Amy is at university in a new town. Manipulative, intelligent and calculating, Jeff is in a prison cell for strangling his ex-girlfriend. Blind to the harm he can cause, Jeff’s adoring mother encourages Amy to write to and befriend the convict, neglecting to inform her that he is soon to be released into the community. Amy’s brand new pan-pal has a penchant for necks and is eager for new prey, especially in the form of such friendless innocence.

Carol Anne Davis’ novel, Sob Story, is chilling and thought-provoking. It’s a study into the darker side of human nature and Larkin’s words, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” ring truer than ever throughout. This is an examination not only of the criminal mind but of parental neglect and domestic abuse. The two protagonists are damaged in ways that could have been prevented by more vigilant and selfless parenting, something that we could all be mindful of when meeting people in real life who we consider to be odd.

The author clearly has an excellent understanding of criminology and her research seems thorough. For that reason, this piece of fiction is sometimes uncomfortable but, like all good thrillers, the reader may find herself loathe to put the book down and so carries on regardless, with one eye closed, determined to find out how the story ends.

Actually, I think we more or less know what the conclusion will be but we’re kept guessing as to how this will happen. As twists and turns come into play, we are introduced to new characters, who threaten to get in the way of sadistic Jeff’s deathly plans. It’s all unnervingly nail-biting.

- Rebecca Cordon, The Liminal Book Group