Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Live To Tell" by Lisa Gardner

After an entire family is slaughtered, detective D.D. Warren believes that the father - now in intensive care - is a possible suspect. However, when a similar crime occurs, it's obvious something sinister is going on. The investigation leads to a pediatric psych ward that treats extremely disturbed or violent children. As it happens, one of the workers there, Danielle Burton, was the lone survivor of an incident in which her father murdered her entire family. Could there be a connection? Intercut with all of this is the story of Victoria Oliver, a woman who has had to make huge sacrifices in order to care for and protect her eight-year-old son, who is a budding violent psychopath.

"Live To Tell" is unfortunately another victim of the scenario in which a writer gets too attached to their research. Lisa Gardner is one of my favourite authors, but her latest offering has failed to live up to her previous releases. The most frustrating thing here is that this had so much potential. It's a fascinating premise, one you don't find too often in this genre. Entire families being murdered - both past and present - violent, unpredictable children and the possible connections between them all. For a little while, I was really into the book. But the intrigue fizzled out as it became apparent the plot wasn't going anywhere. Once all the intriguing elements are established, Gardner spends far too much time holding things close to her vest in order to keep the reader in the dark. I like not knowing where a plot is heading, but you need to at least play fair with the reader and drop little tidbits every now and then. Here, the pacing just ground to a halt as we spent far too much time with spiritual healer Andrew Lightfoot. All his mumbo jumbo about "spiritual planes" and what-not wore thin very quickly. The acknowledgments at the end of the book thank a family for sharing their story about their experiences with a mentally disturbed child and that the best help came from their interactions with a spiritual healer, which I suspect is the reason why we learn far more about that occupation than is actually necessary.

Another irksome element is Alex Wilson, a former detective who now teaches at the Academy. He feels he's getting rusty, so naturally he's allowed to insert himself into the investigation tag along to crime scenes and even question suspects. It's the sort of ploy you'd expect from a crime TV show like "Bones" or "Castle", and doesn't seem genuine. He's also a transparently obvious plot device - as a love interest for D.D. Warren. As for D.D. herself, I'm somewhat perplexed that she's become the central recurring character for Gardner's novels. I quickly got tired of hearing about how horny she was. She's not especially interesting, plucky or cluey, and should not be the driving force for a novel. And the Bobby Dodge cameo was gratuitous and unnecessary - either bring him back into the fold, or move on!

It's hard to know how I feel about "Live To Tell". It's certainly not a patch on her best work, neither is it as truly awful as "The Third Victim" or "Alone". It has an excellent premise, an initially intriguing set-up, but blows it with a choppily-paced midsection, an irritating central detective and that bloody spiritual healer. I certainly can't whole-heartedly recommend it, so it's pretty much a case for somebody checking it out and deciding for themselves.

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