Robert Tolins

"Unhealthy Boundaries"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAY 7, 2000)

"There isn't much people here don't know about each other, is there?"
"Everything and nothing."

Unhealthy Boundaries at

Jason McMahon can't help himself. He is obsessed with talking to the "no lifes" online in a poetry chat room. He is particularly obsessed with one woman, a Sharon Somers. It's not a secret to his colleagues or family that he's addicted to cyber life. What they don't know is the details of this secret life, the fact that he is enjoying an intimate cyber relationship with Sharon. That is, until she suddenly cuts if off in in favor of another online "lover". When she is murdered, all implications point to Jason as the murderer, and the California District Attorney is ready to extradite him and lock him up.

What I find interesting in Tolins approach to the subject matter is that he doesn't really moralize or glamorize the chat room scene. Instead he depicts what seems to be typical behavior, given the anonymity of the communication form and considering people are people. I had a hard time with the beginning of the story and nearly didn't read the book because of it. It just seems to me a waste of time to even read about such adolescent behavior (I don't mind moralizing). But as I got deeper into the story, I realized that it was this same reaction I was having that was going to make it impossible for Jason to receive fair treatment from the public or the legal system. Jason's preoccupation with his online life had gone beyond what is considered a healthy state of mind. For , Jason from all outside appearance, is an intelligent man. He is a lawyer married to a lawyer. But we all know that in the case of addictions, intelligence and all else takes a back seat.

So here we are with Sharon Somers brutally murdered and strong evidence of Jason's infatuation and jealousy as revealed in the transcripts. To make matters worse there is a witness in California who says that Jason bragged about having mob connections that could take care of things if need be. At first Jason tries to get himself out of trouble, after all, this is a rather unseemly situation to put his family through. But his wife is far more practical than her husband. When things fall apart Alice steps in. Fortunately for Jason, Alice's instinct as a lawyer exceeds those as a wife. We know that anyone else would have left their husband, but Alice understands when the legal system is not doing due diligence. She believes Jason did not murder Sharon and she will prove it.

Perhaps it is Tolins intention to parallel the potentially unhealthy nature of the cyber life, and that is why Jason's character dims in comparison to Alice. She is the one that has the real physical pain inflicted on her, whereas Jason sits on the sidelines, helpless, letting Alice take care of everything. This "Story of Murder and the Internet" reads like an amateur detective novel set in a very contemporary backdrop where the boundaries between the physical and virtual can lead to some unhealthy consequences.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews

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Robert Tolins is a retired lawyer who lives with his wife and children in Holliston, Massachusetts. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014