Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Touch & Go" by Lisa Gardner

The Denbe family - Justin, Libby and Ashlyn - are kidnapped from their home by three dangerous men - Z, Mick and Radar - and locked up in an unused prison facility built by Justin's construction company. They don't know why they've been targeted, as the kidnappers don't seem especially interested in a ransom, saying they're not doing it for the money.

Several parties get involved in figuring out what has happened to the Denbe family. There are a couple of FBI agents, Wyatt Foster from the Sheriff's department, and private investigator Tessa Leoni, who works for a PI agency kept on retainer by Justin's company. Lisa Gardner fans might remember Tessa from the earlier novel Love You More.

All the combined law professionals need to dig into every corner of the Denbe family life to uncover the mastermind behind the kidnapping and find out where the Denbe family are. Meanwhile, the Denbe family themselves must struggle to both survive their dilemma and their crumbling family unit.

I list Lisa Gardner in my top three of favourite authors, so I have high standards when it comes to one of her books. They are not all perfect, but she has far more hits than misses, and she is one of those rare authors who took the risk to abandon cliched romantic fare and tackle grittier material. Even when her books don't reach the heights they typically do, I still mostly enjoy them.

I enjoyed reading Touch & Go, but it was far from one of her best. If you read something like her previous novel Catch Me, you are aware that Gardner can deliver a fast-paced, suspenseful tale packed with plot twists. That's not what you get here. The plot twists here are very slow in coming, and most of them can be figured out well in advance. Once Gardner reveals that Justin's company had a ransom insurance policy, I was safely able to predict who the kidnap mastermind was and the rest of the novel's obvious twists.

For the most part, Gardner keeps the proceedings in a bit of a holding pattern - law professionals question a person, or the Denbe family experience some mid-level torture, or the Denbe family bicker amongst themselves. It does get a bit tedious after a while - I wanted a game change much earlier than what was finally delivered.

The biggest problem here is similar to the problem found in Love You More. All the chapters involving Tessa, Wyatt and the FBI agents involve dry police procedural cliches whilst they speculate about what has happened to the Denbe family, and question suspects. However, we have multiple chapters from Libby Denbe's point of view telling us exactly what is happening. Waiting for the cops et al to catch up to what I already know is not terribly exciting. I understand we need to know how the law enforcement figure things out, but here it just tends to drag everything down.

And why was Tessa even here? I don't really buy the FBI and the Sheriff's department happily letting her tag along when she doesn't particularly provide any insights they themselves haven't already figured out for themselves. If Gardner is looking for a new character to anchor future novels, I sincerely hope she doesn't stick with Tessa. Tessa herself isn't a bad character, but synthetically injecting a private investigator into FBI/police/sheriff investigations just doesn't work.

Nevertheless, Gardner has a terrific handle on action and suspense sequences - some of the prison sequences later in the novel are genuinely tension-laced. It's a pity there weren't more of them - or some less predictable twists to go with them. All in all, Touch & Go is one of Gardner's lesser works, but it does deliver enough of the goods to be worthwhile for her fans. I am a fan, and will remain one!

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