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Lisa Gardner

BEFORE SHE DISAPPEARED . . . Between the covers

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It was around this time last year when I reviewed Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me, and in January 2018 Look For Me came under the Fully Booked microscope. These both featured the ‘odd couple’ Flora Dane and DD Warren, but this January the New Hampshire author has produced a standalone thriller – Before She Disappeared.

BSD coverCentre stage is a woman called Frankie Elkins. She is middle-aged and a recovering alcoholic. Her purpose in life is to find missing people. People who have been taken. People who have just walked away into oblivion. People who the police have made an effort to find, but have given up. This mission may remind British readers of the David Raker books by Tim Weaver (click the link to read more), but Frankie is rather different in that she doesn’t work for a fee. She follows cases on internet message boards and then just ups sticks, and with all her belongings in a suitcase heads of to where the trail went cold. I have to say that this was, initially, a fairly improbable premise. Frankie seems to have no money, little other than the clothes she stands up in, so why would she do this? Stay with it, though, like I did, and there will be an explanation. She carries the burden of a terrible trauma, and Lisa Gardner teases us about its actual nature until quite late in the story, and when we learn what happened, the past has a terrible resonance with the present.

In Before She Disappeared, Frankie goes to Boston, but this isn’t the upper crust Boston of the Kennedy dynasty, Leonard Bernstein or Harvard. She heads for Mattapan, a hard-scrabble and tumbledown district home to thousands of Haitians and other refugees from strife, poverty and natural disasters. Her mission? To find out what happened to Angelique Badeau, The Haitian teenager had been living with her aunt, sent to America after an earthquake devastated her home. One day she set of for school as normal, and nothing has been seen or heard of her since.

As a white woman in Mattapan Frankie is something of a curiosity, but she takes a job in a bar and slowly makes friends. The downside is that as her probing into Angelique’s disappearance starts to uncover some dark secrets, she also makes some serious – and deadly – enemies.

Frankie gains the begrudging trust of a local cop, Detective Lotham, and the pair begin to generate a certain electricity between them. This is, of course, a very handy – but perfectly plausible – plot device,as it enable Frankie to have access to all kinds of information, such as CCTV footage which, as a civilian she would otherwise not have.

The problem for Frankie is that Angelique was almost too good to be true. Studious, punctual, respectful, no boyfriend interest and certainly no connection to the local gangs, there seems to neither rhyme nor reason behind her disappearance. Then, after a more thorough search of the Badeau’s apartment Frankie makes a shocking discovery. She finds a huge stash of cash hidden in the hollow base of a standard lamp. When most of these bills are found to be rather good forgeries, the case swerves in a totally different direction.

I had in the back of my mind the comment, “a typical American thriller.” This is in no way derogatory. In the best of these books there is a slickness, a tight control over the flow of events, a sense of darkness that gives an edge without being too disturbing, and a cinematic quality. Before She Disappeared certainly fits into this slot. It is taut, sharply original and very, very readable. It is published by Century/Penguin Random House and is out now.

WHEN YOU SEE ME . . . Between the covers

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WYSMI first encountered Lisa Gardner’s entertaining ensemble of law enforcers just over a year ago in Look For Me. D.D. Warren, the Boston cop whose exploits began in 2005 with Hide was there, as was the rather more exotic and eccentric Flora Dane – a young woman who has been damaged physically and mentally by a long torment of captivity and abuse at the hands of Jacob Ness, a psychopath who was taken down in dramatic fashion when the FBI raided his hideout. When You See Me reunites Warren and Dane, along with one or two other key players, as a couple of hikers out for the day in the Appalachian mountains find human remains. When police give the site their full attention other bodies are found. Are they previously undiscovered victims of the unspeakable Ness, or has the area been host to another sadistic killer?

Flora Dane is at the centre of this novel, not only because of her connection with the history of the area, but because she has teamed up with Keithe Edgar, an amateur – but extremely clever – data analyst whose unofficial skills are harnessed by the federal agents as they try to unpick the knot of the case. Flora’s attitude to men has been, to put it mildly, compromised by her trauma at the hands of Ness, but in Keith she might – just might – has found a person to trust, a person with no negative motives, and someone who can ward of the fears and horrors embedded in her memory.

T redhe storytelling technique which uses multiple narrators is much used and, it must be said, often abused, but Kisa Gardner nails it here, particularly through the eyes of Bonita, a Mexican girl maimed in childhood, unable to speak and used as a maid-of-all-work in an ostensibly respectable Victorian mansion, now an upmarket Bed & Breakfast facility in Niche, Georgia – the nearest settlement to where the human remains have been uncovered. Bonita is not her real name. Only her late mother knows what it is, but when D.D. Warren meets her during the investigation, she says:

’Bonita’ D.D. said softly.’It’s the Spanish word for pretty. What do you think? I’ll call you Bonita.’”

Lisa-Gardner-2_940x529-72-ppiAlmost inevitably, the dreadful goings on in the mountains surrounding Niche must involve some of the locals, but Lisa Gardner (right) lays out several enticing red herrings before revealing precisely which of the eminent townsfolk are involved in a dreadful conspiracy, a toxic cocktail of abduction, sexual slavery and-ultimately-murder. Flora, D.D. and the other members of the team eventually corner the evil genius at the centre of Niche’s darkest secret, but not before we are treated to a spectacularly violent finale involving secret tunnels, torture and, intriguingly, death-by-dishwasher.

A redmerican crime fiction is a huge, diverse and somewhat unwieldy beast, but at its best it is slick, literate, flawlessly plotted, endlessly enthralling and with a narrative drive that seems to come as second nature to such writers as Lisa Gardner. When You See Me will be out in Kindle, published by Cornerstone Digital on 28th January and in hardback by Century on 20th February. The paperback will be available in July.

Look For Me . . . Between the covers

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Boston Police Department dates back to 1893 and has employed many brave and distinguished real-life officers, but the Queen of fictional Boston cops is surely the redoubtable DD Warren. Author Lisa Gardner first introduced her in the 2005 novel Hide, which was later adapted as a Ted Turner made-for-TV movie of the same name. The episodes in Sergeant Warren’s career now run into double figures, and now she returns in Look For Me – aided and abetted by none other than Flora Dane, who featured in Find Her (2016). Flora is a victim turned avenger. Kidnapped and tortured for 472 days by the sadistic Jacob Ness, she emerged from the horror of her captivity and has now focused her energies on extracting violent revenge on men who abuse women.

Look For MeWe are taken to an autumnal Boston. Initially, Warren has nothing more on her mind than the consequences of giving in to the demands of her young son that they should adopt a dog. Her domestic reverie is rudely and violently interrupted when she is called to a house in the Brighton district of the city, where she is confronted by a scene of carnage. Householder Charlie Boyd is sitting on his sofa, as dead as a doornail. His girlfriend Juanita Baez is in the kitchen, shot as she was taking something from the cupboard. In the bedroom, even worse horrors await. Lola and Manny Baez, two of Juanita’s children, are clasped in a protective embrace, but just as dead as the adults.

Warren is faced with an immediate question. Where is Roxanne, Juanita’s elder daughter, and where are the elderly dogs which were a vital part of thr Baez family? The missing Roxanne has recently joined a social media group, founded by Flora Dane, which aims to provide solace, advice – and suggestions for pay-back – for female victims of male violence. Thus, Flora and DD are reunited in an uneasy alliance. Their task? To find the elusive Roxanne and determine if she is responsible for the gunning down of her immediate family.

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The story plays out with three narrators. Flora Dane speaks for herself, as does Roxanne, via a series of school essays on the subject of The Perfect Family. The actions of DD Warren and her colleagues on the BPD are reported in third-person observation. Lisa Gardner is nothing if not a consummate storyteller, and she paces out the action in classic funnel-fashion. Everything – action, timelines and discoveries – narrows down to the point when the killer is revealed.

As Warren and Dane pursue their parallel investigations, we become a fly-on-the-wall of a perfectly horrendous foster home, presided over by a grotesque woman whose only concern is to make sure that her outgoings – food, heat, lighting, clothes – are well below what the state of Massachusetts pays her to look after an ever-changing roll call of damaged children.

In the meantime, however, we have a masterclass in how to blend a police procedural with a domestic Noir thriller. The main characters – DD Warren and Flora Dane – are convincing and authentic. Above all, Lisa Gardner makes them enough to compel us to care about what they think and what happens to them. If, as a crime writer, you can do this, then the battle is won.

Lisa Gardner’s website is here

Check buying options for Look For Me here

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Gardner, Haden & Thomson

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As we get within shouting distance of Christmas, and the Great Shut-Down, this week’s post has something of a military look about it, with two historical novels set in and around World War II. The first book out of the festive wrapping paper, however, is the latest thriller from Lisa Gardner, Look For Me.

Look For MeLook For Me is a return to active duty for Boston Detective D D Warren. In the twelfth book of an obviously popular series, Gardner brings back a character – Flora Dane –  from an earlier book, Find Her, in which Dane was a resilient but haunted survivor of kidnap and abduction. Now, Dane’s thirst for vengeance on her tormentor is a mixed blessing for Warren who is faced with a murder scene of almost unimaginable violence. Four members of the same family lie slaughtered in the family home, a refuge transformed into a charnel house. But where is the fifth member of the family? Has the sixteen year-old girl escaped, or is her disappearance the prelude to an even greater evil? Look For Me is published by Century, part of the Penguin Random House group, and will be available in early February 2018. You can pre-order a copy here.

JanPolish history in the twentieth century shows us a region constantly in the thick of conflict between rival military forces. It was the scene of many of the battles on the Eastern Front during WWI, and Poland suffered hugely at the hands of the Nazis during WWII. The very worst concentration camps set up by Hitler were on what is now Polish territory. Then, post-war, came what was, to all intents and purposes, a Russian occupation. Peter Haden’s novel Jan actually deals with a real person, his uncle, Jan Janicki and his exploits both before and during the Nazi occupation of his homeland. The novel tells of a flight from desperate domestic poverty, the humiliation of working for the ruthless German invaders, but then a determination to fight back, which sees Jan laying his life on the line to support the Polish resistance movement. Jan is published by Matador, and is available from their website, or from Amazon.

Doug ThomsonFrom Poland to Italy, where much of A Time For Role Call by Doug Thompson (left) is set. Former Professor of Modern Italian language, history and literature, Doug Thompson draws on his intimate knowledge of Italy to write a lively novel with a feisty protagonist and colourful cast of supporting characters. Sally Jardine-Fell is recruited by the wartime Special Operations Executive to travel to Italy. Her mission? To insinuate herself into the life of none other than Count Galeazo Ciano, Foreign Minister to Il Duce – Benito Mussolini – himself. Inevitably, things do not go according to plan, and, despite both the war and Mussolini himself becoming consigned to history, events conspire against Sally, and she finds herself in a cell, charged with murder. A Time For Role Call is published by Matador, and is available from their website or from Amazon.

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