Title: Live to Tell
Hardback: 385 pages
Publication Date: 22/07/2010
Live to Tell, Lisa Gardner’s latest novel in the Detective D.D. Warren series, is an uncomfortably riveting and often heart-breaking book that explores the terrifying potential for violence and murder within the family unit. When two families are found brutally slain the Boston police immediately suspect the fathers of being ‘family annihilators’ [US criminologist and police really do have a term for everything]. Despite the similarities between the crimes, the short span of time between the two leads D.D. to the belief that it’s coincidence rather than a serial killer that links them both. But when it emerges that both families each had a child who displayed disturbing behaviour and possibly psychopathic tendencies, the seemingly open-and-shut cases become something far more complicated.
The investigation leads D.D. to a paediatric psych ward where she encounters Danielle, a nurse who twenty-five years before was the sole-survivor of her father’s savage attack on their family. Does Danielle, with her horrific past, have something to do with the crimes? Or could Andrew Lightfoot, a new age healer who occasionally helps at the ward and had dealings with the murdered families, help? And is he really, as he claims, a shaman or are his ‘supernatural’ abilities little more than a sham [D.D. certainly seems to favour the latter – as would I, in her position]?
This being a crime novel, it would have been easy for Gardner to sensationalise the subject matter of children with violent disorders. Instead, what comes across in the novel is a well-researched knowledge of the subject that raises questions of whether these children’s problems are the result of nature or nurture. And in the figure of Danielle, there is also an intriguing and poignant exploration of the long-term effects of childhood trauma, both physical and mental.
Another of Gardner’s strengths is her adeptness at writing her novels from multiple viewpoints – allowing the reader to see characters from different perspectives and thus gain a greater depth of knowledge and understanding about them. D.D. for example, becomes a very confrontational and abrasive personality when viewed from Danielle’s perspective – a side of her that isn’t as noticeable in the sections written from D.D.’s point-of-view. That being said though, one of my biggest gripes whilst reading this book came in relation to a facet of D.D.’s characterisation. She seems to have a freakishly large appetite [she claims to have a high metabolism] and is obsessed with sex. Initially this was quite amusing, but as the novel progressed and both were repeatedly mentioned, it just became a bit repetitive and annoying.
Ultimately though, the other characters in this novel are so brilliantly realised that D.D.’s shortcomings aren’t that important as she is surrounded by a couple of beautifully realised characters. And for all her problems, D.D. springs to life as a character when she is investigating and doing police-related work. Live to Tell is a tense and claustrophobic read from brutal and disturbing beginning to its enthralling climax.