1485 A perilous email rabbit hole
Just One Look
by Lindsay Cameron
Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada (Ballantine Books), 2022
$23.00 / 9780593159071
Reviewed by Zoe McKenna
As the first pages of Lindsay Cameron’s Just One Look unfold, it becomes clear that Cassie Woodson is not to be trusted. The ease with which Cassie learns every intimate detail about a complete stranger’s life sets the stage for a disturbing story with a warning for the digital age.
Lindsay Cameron worked as a lawyer in Vancouver and New York City. Just One Look, her second novel, is steeped in insider information afforded to the author through these years of experience.
The novel begins with Cassie wishing for disaster. Once a well-respected lawyer, Cassie has been driven out of her law career by a violent, emotional, and public scandal. It has been more than six months since she “stepped foot in an office-building—or almost anywhere outside of [her] apartment.” Having fallen from grace, Cassie enters this office not as a lawyer, but as a temp. The dingy office with buzzing overhead fluorescents is a far cry from the beautiful top-floor office Cassie is used to. Her claustrophobia and paranoia are contagious; the setting is soon suffocating.
Cassie is tasked with sorting through thousands of company emails to decide whether they can be used in a large-scale fraud case that the firm has undertaken. Far below her level of experience, Cassie is frustrated by the menial work until she comes across personal emails between Forest Watts and his wife, Annabelle. Forest is a partner at the firm Cassie is working for and there is no clear reason why his personal emails should be under review. Cassie is obsessed, though the emails are innocent in nature—dinner plans, friends and family, and medical appointments.
Cassie is instantly and inexplicably infatuated with Forest and Annabelle. She scours the internet for the couple’s social media profiles and any mention of the affluent pair in the media. Any information Cassie cannot find publicly, she sources from the private email correspondence that has mistakenly made its way into her workflow.
It becomes more and more difficult to trust the events of the novel as they are presented by Cassie. As the novel progresses, alcohol-induced blackouts and strategic diversions in her own inner monologue leave many details about Cassie’s actions, motivations, and history absent. The further Cassie dives into the lives of Forest and Annabelle, the less clarity remains surrounding her own.
Readers aren’t given any supporting details about Cassie’s life or motivations. Between the first-person narrative and Cassie’s strained relationships with coworkers, there is no alternative to Cassie’s recollection of events. Yet, despite this proximity, it is unclear exactly why Cassie fixates on Forest—or whether it is in fact Annabelle who draws her attention. While it is evident that Forest and Annabelle represent a life of happiness and security that Cassie feels is out of reach, the overlap between jealousy, adoration, lust, and obsession is blurry.
Approaching the novel through Cassie’s unpredictable eyes is, at times, challenging. Cassie makes bad decision after bad decision, telling lies at every opportunity. Without any explanation of her situation to garner sympathy, readers are asked to suspend judgment in order to get to the meat of the novel.
Yet, these challenges are also what create the thrill of the novel. Cameron tactfully weaves a compelling narrative through the eyes of a deeply unsympathetic narrator and the story is propelled by this strange character leading the way. At no point is it certain how far Cassie will take her obsession or what tactics she might try next to gain Forest’s attention. It evokes the train wreck effect—readers know that something awful is about to happen and don’t want to see it, but can’t force themselves to look away. One chapter becomes two, two chapters become five. Despite slower pacing than the typical thriller, the novel is a treat to complete in one sitting.
This is all the more true for how modern and immediate the novel feels. Despite having trained as a lawyer, Cassie is not a natural detective. The more she stalks Forest and Annabelle, the more this becomes clear in small mistakes and social blunders. Yet, through simple internet research and a few hours on social media, Cassie is able to create a binder of information about the couple. Everything they do and all their personal information is available online. This revelation is unnerving and urges readers to revisit their own digital presence.
While Cassie’s online resources might be uncomfortably familiar, what she chooses to do with the information she uncovers is unpredictable. In spite of (or, because of) the troubling and erratic narrator, Just One Look becomes an irresistible thriller with a sinister warning for the 21st-century—privacy is extinct, so be careful what you write online.
Zoe McKenna recently completed her Master of Arts from the University of Victoria and also holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vancouver Island University. Her thesis, as well as a great deal of her other reading and writing, focuses on horror writing in Canada, especially that by BIPOC authors. Her previous work has appeared in VIU’s Portal Magazine and the Quill & Quire. When not reading, writing, or reviewing, Zoe can be found hiking a local mountain or in front of a movie with her two cats, Florence and Delilah. She is always covered in cat hair and wears almost exclusively dark clothing to prove it. Find her here on Twitter. Editor’s note: Zoe McKenna has recently reviewed books by Danial Neil, Allie McFarfand, Chevy Stevens, Carmella Gray-Cosgrove, Ed O’Loughlin, and Meghan Bell for The British Columbia Review.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster