Live to Tell is the next in Lisa Gardnerís D.D. Warren series. While the previous book, The Neighbor, was iffy as far as both characterization and plotting, this one is a home run knocked clear out of the park. An uncomfortable home run, but a home run nonetheless. This book is stellar, riveting, and will keep you reading long into the night - until you put it down and try to sleep with that slightly disturbed feeling you get when you experience some real-world horror.
Danielle is the survivor of a mass murder in which her entire family was killed by her father. She has no idea why, but he shot himself in her bedroom doorway rather than kill her as well. Racked with survivorís guilt, she works as a nurse in a care facility for mentally ill children. Victoria is the mother of a troubled child prone to fits of violent rage, a boy who has sworn to kill her at some point, yet she wonít abandon him, even if her husband has taken their daughter because Victoria refuses to institutionalize the boy. D.D. Warren is a Boston homicide detective tasked with solving one, and then two, family annihilations, where it looks like the father massacred the family before killing himself. How do these three stories tie together? Whatever the answer, it could result in an even more brutal murder.
Gardner excels at telling her novels from multiple viewpoints: Warren (her main character) and two others who are intimately involved in some way, or at the very least will be. Again, Gardnerís characterization skills are fairly high, though once again Warren suffers in comparison to the other two main characters. This time, Warren is a bit more than two-dimensional, but Iím not sure that what Gardner added is really that interesting.
It seems that with the high crime rate and her own semi-abrasive personality, Warren hasnít been getting much sex lately. Sheís getting really frustrated, so much so that she fully intends to sleep with the guy sheís out on a first date with at the beginning of the novel. When thatís interrupted with the first massacre, she becomes attracted to Alex Wilson, a man who teaches at the academy but who is shadowing one of Warrenís fellow detectives for a month during this investigation. Much of their talk is how theyíre eventually going to get into each otherís pants at some point.
I guess honesty is a good thing.
The thing is, Warren is beautifully written in the investigation scenes. Sheís sharp and to the point, unwilling to put up with any BS from either suspects or people sheís questioning if they appear to be hiding something. I loved reading about her in those scenes, until she flashes back to thinking about Alex and her frustration.
The other two stories are riveting, as Gardner slowly teases out Danielleís history and shows her doing a good job as a nurse in the childrenís psychiatric ward. Danielle reveals little tidbits of her past in each of her chapters, some of it as sheís only now coming to realize it because she has repressed the memories.
Victoriaís story is even better-written and is what adds to the creepiness factor of Live to Tell. It almost hurts seeing the lengths she has to go to in order to keep her son with her at home. Doors that require keys to go in and out because she canít risk him sneaking out of the house. Violent rages where she has to stop him before he can grab a weapon. The mildness of his personality when heís not in one of his rages. And the calmness that he demonstrates when he turns to her and simply says ďIím going to kill you, Mommy.Ē It is uncomfortable to read about - and impossible to put down.
Gardner ties everything together beautifully with some other interesting characters that I wonít list (there are too many, and I donít want to imply who the real culprit is). The focus is on these three women, all damaged in some way, barely living. Warren is almost defined by her job because sheís too busy for anything else. Victoria has no life whatsoever because she canít leave her child for fear of what he will do when heís out of her sight. Danielle has survived a full life but hasnít really lived in it at all. Itís an interesting contrast.
All of this leads to a last fifty pages that have to be read in one sitting. The climax to this book is simply wonderful.
With Warren being slightly less of a cipher, Live to Tell is better than The Neighbor. It draws the readerís attention to some real-life horror, illustrating what some parents have to go through with their children, not to mention the mystery in the mix.