Tue
Feb 6 2018 11:00am

Review: Look for Me by Lisa Gardner

In Look for Me, #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner's latest twisty thrill ride, Detective D. D. Warren and Find Her's Flora Dane return in a race against the clock to either save a young girl's life ... or bring her to justice (available February 6, 2018).

Lisa Gardner has achieved another career milestone: the publication of her 20th crime novel. (She previously penned 13 romantic suspense titles under the pseudonym Alicia Scott.) In addition to reaching the pinnacle of the New York Times bestseller list, 22 million copies of her books are currently in print throughout 30 countries, and four were adapted as television movies. She also won the Best Hardcover Award from International Thriller Writers for The Neighbor and was a recipient of the organization’s Silver Bullet Award for her humanitarian work in 2017. The author’s latest, Look for Me, is the ninth title to feature Boston Sergeant Detective D. D. Warren, and it reunites her with survivor-turned-vigilante Flora Dane of Find Her (2016).

As the story opens, D. D.’s cell phones—work and personal—ring, interrupting what was supposed to be a blissful Saturday with her husband, Alex, and their five-year-old son. Instead of the anticipated apple picking and dog adoption, D. D. finds herself at the scene of a multiple homicide in Brighton where four people—two adults and two children—have been shot dead; their bodies indicate no sign of a struggle or attempted escape. The fifth member of the household, 16-year-old Roxanna (“Roxy”) Baez, has gone missing without a trace. But is her disappearance an indication of danger or guilt? Either way, the clock is ticking—and D. D. is determined to find her before more blood is spilled.

But finding Roxy largely depends on understanding her, and D. D. soon discovers that the girl’s sense of self is shrouded in secrecy and shame. Despite outward appearances of normalcy, the investigative team learns that Roxy’s now-deceased mother, Juanita, was once an alcoholic whose three children from her previous relationships were placed in foster care until she sobered up and regained custody. By all accounts, Roxy is a responsible, sensitive teen who was forced to grow up early, caring for her younger sister, Lola, both prior to and during their tenure at Mother Del’s foster home. While her complicity in the crime seems unlikely, D. D. knows better than to make any such snap judgments.

Enter Flora Dane, who escaped an extended abduction during which she was raped and otherwise tortured only to discover that life as she once knew it no longer exists. She now facilitates an under-the-radar support group for victims seeking empowerment and camaraderie; she also has a vengeful streak that D. D. knows well from their previous encounters. Flora’s intel—that one of her group’s members, whose story of survival serves as the book’s prologue, took Roxy under her wing, believing the girl to be in imminent danger—changes the course of the investigation and sets up a compelling (and often conflicted) dynamic between the two powerhouse protagonists, who appear entirely different on the surface but share some fundamental commonalities underneath it all.   

With no easy answers and the threat of further violence, D. D. focuses in on the girls’ time at Mother Del’s; though her suspicions are difficult to confirm, there is reason to believe that something untoward happened there—perhaps even the triggering event for the subsequent tragedy. (A multi-part personal narrative written by Roxy and entitled “What is the Perfect Family?” is interspersed throughout the book; though sometimes a bit mature sounding for someone her age, it both resolves information gaps and provides emotional depth.) Meanwhile, Flora—who has become D. D.’s Confidential Informant, much to their mutual surprise—is tasked with looking into Lola’s alleged involvement in a female gang and whether or not that may have contributed to her death. Chapters largely alternate between the two, which heightens the suspense by making readers privy to information that isn’t yet wholly available to the characters.

Per usual, Gardner infuses her narrative with timely and topical social issues that deserve a closer look; here, the abuses and limitations of the foster care system come under the microscope, as do other matters including dependency, exploitation, gang violence, and PTSD. So too the struggles of working mothers like D. D. Warren, who endeavor to balance their personal and professional lives without compromising either. It’s these elements that ground the author’s propulsive plots in a sense of realism despite their fictional flourishes.

Look for Me is a worthy addition to Lisa Gardner’s outstanding oeuvre. Twenty books in, she continues to evolve her style and sensibilities, crafting stories that are as evergreen as they are urgent. As much about the whys as the whos, this is a thought-provoking thriller that will creep under your skin and inside your heart.

 

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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.

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