This is a sneak preview of Touch and Go, by Lisa Gardner (Penguin Group USA, 2013, 400 pages) Available February 5, 2013.
Many people can remember the days when that special someone was in our heads every minute of every day, and how we prized whatever time we spent with them laughing, playing, making love, or just hanging out. They were the focus of our universe, and we just knew we were the focus of theirs. What a wonderful trip. But then, sometimes–even after years of marriage with children–we notice that that special look we used to see is gone. Is it just because the intoxicating whiff of Emeraude has been overpowered by eau de Vicks VapoRub–or is there something more fundamental, more selfish going on? And what do we do about it? Let is slide? Hope it gets better? Or bury our heads in the sand?
And what if it doesn’t get better?
In Lisa Gardner’s new novel, Touch and Go, we encounter a family in crisis. On the surface, things couldn’t be peachier. Justin Denbe is a self-made millionaire, owner of his own construction company, who happens to be damned good looking to boot. His beautiful wife, Libby, grew up on the wrong side of Boston, and happened to fall head over heels (I hate cliches, but it works here) in love with Justin the first time she saw him. After almost two decades of marriage, they have a beautiful 15-year old daughter and they live in the Back Bay section of Boston where real estate is out of reach even during a downturn in the economy. Life couldn’t be better.
Then we learn that things aren’t as good as they seem on the surface. Cracks are beginning to show up. Justin, it seems, has developed certain behavioral characteristics that his father was famous for–one of which is that he can’t keep his pants on around good-looking women. Libby is secretly hooked on prescription pain pills and never met a physician with a prescription pad she didn’t like. And 15-year old Ashlyn? She is watching this whole thing develop and feels helpless to do anything about it. She essentially feels abandoned.
So, in many ways, this is a book about a family in crisis–and how that family finally comes to face the crisis. Or is it too late?
But wait! I am sure you are saying, “Isn’t Lisa Gardner a mystery writer?” Why yes, she is. And a good one at that.
So what’s the mystery?
Well, the family may never have faced their crisis at all but for one fortuitous (or devastating–you decide after reading this) event: On a Friday evening, after Justin and Libby arrive back in their townhouse after a “date night” (something they had been doing to patch up little things like Justin’s infidelity), the entire family is kidnapped. And the kidnappers aren’t amateurs. They are very professional–and very scary.
The depth of the family’s misery is revealed slowly after the kidnapping, and from Libby’s point of view. She is the narrator of their experience inside the place where they are being held. Here, although they are facing the uncertainty of their situation (why were they kidnapped? For money? Or for something else? Will they be released–or does someone want them dead?), they are confined in a cell and the three of them, forced together in close quarters, have no choice but to confront their demons. Sort of a forced therapy, if you will. Their experiences with each other, with all of the love-hate overtones, are truly touching in places and it is clear that Gardner is maturing into a writer with more than forensics and body-farm smarts going for her. She has a heart.
As though their family issues aren’t enough torture, there are the kidnappers themselves. Scary guys with tattoos on their heads, probably former military. Although violence is just beneath the surface, they seem to want to keep the family alive–at least for a while. But they are really scary people.
I have read Gardner’s books before, and have always found them entertaining. This one is different. Maybe because Gardner is different. She is growing, maturing, turning into more than just a writer of formula thrillers. Yes, we do have a story involving an investigator who has appeared before in her books–Tessa Leoni. We also meet a savvy detective from Northern New Hampshire, and a few FBI agents who become involved in the case. But this isn’t about the investigators. It is about the family. And that I find refreshing.
For over twenty years, mysteries have been paeans to the art of serial killing. It was intriguing for a whlle to read about sociopaths, forensics, body farms, blood work, autopsies, and the like–but after twenty years our fascination with Bundy-like antagonists needs to come to a close and deal more with the feelings of real crime victims rather than with their mutilated corpses. Gardner has taken a big step for a writer and a giant leap for “reader-kind” in this her newest novel.
But she has not sacrificed suspense. If, as Hitchcock once implied, suspense is created by the audience knowing what is on the other side of the door when the hero has no clue, this book is filled with suspense. As readers, we know where the family is being held and we are waiting, hoping, praying for the cops to pick up a map and figure it out for themselves–before it is too late.
This is good stuff.
Copyright 2013 Isaac Morris!