Fresh Meat: Don’t Go by Lisa Scottoline

Don't Go by Lisa ScottolineDon’t Go by Lisa Scottoline is a novel about the mysterious circumstances surrounding a woman’s death and her soldier husband’s investigation (available April 9, 2013).

Lisa Scottoline’s twentieth novel, Don’t Go, opens with the prosaic: Chloe Peterson, a young mother whose husband Mike is an Army Medical Corps reservist serving in Afghanistan, is unloading the dishwasher in her suburban Philadelphia home when a kitchen knife slips and slices open her arm. Even the fact that she’s drunk and passes out from the sight of her own blood seems unremarkable enough.

It is when someone walks into the house, sees Chloe has been dragging herself toward the door in a desperate effort to reach help, and walks out without a word that the phrase “ordinary household accident” no longer applies.

Husband Mike arrives back from Helmand Province to his sister-in-law Danielle and her husband Bob, who have taken over the care of the Peterson’s infant daughter, Emily. In fact, the day Chloe died, Danielle had taken Emily to the mall for some Christmas shopping. That she didn’t return in time to help her sister Chloe gives Danielle and Bob even more reason to be devoted to the child.

Grateful for their help, Mike is as unprepared to hear them say Chloe must have been drunk—he never knew her to have a drinking problem—as he is to endure Emily’s reaction to the father she has hardly known: she screams on end every time she sees him.

Mike felt lost, dislocated. He belonged with Chloe, but she was gone. He belonged with Emily, but she didn’t know him. He found himself thinking about their cat, which was pathetic.

Wounded, he heads to his house for the first time since Chloe’s death. There he confronts blood stains on the floor before he finds bottles enough to confirm what he hadn’t been willing to believe: Chloe was “a beginner alcoholic.”

He stormed to their bedroom, lurched to Chloe’s bureau, and straight-armed her perfume bottles onto the rug. He set down the tequila, picked up her jewelry box, and sent it spiraling toward her closet. He pulled out each one of her drawers and dumped them, and he was just getting started. He was going to destroy everything, the way Chloe had destroyed everything. Him. Their life. Their baby’s life. Herself. He wouldn’t rest until he laid to waste all he once knew, and loved.

Turns out he had come home to wage war.

Wage war he does. Betrayed by Chloe and rejected by Emily, he turns on Danielle when the police report raises questions in Mike’s mind about why she had not brought Emily home in time to save Chloe. 

Scottoline adeptly drives the reader to question every character’s motives right along with Mike, who returns to Afghanistan after his “bereavement week” an angry and disappointed man. The gallows humor of his buddy “Chatty” Chatham is his best medicine—until the autopsy report Mike requested reveals Chloe had deceived him more deeply than he could have imagined.

Scenes set in theater, rich with Scottoline’s trademark research, deepen Mike’s troubles in ways that one imagines will resonate with anyone who has served in this war, or had a loved one who has. Combat-generated tragedies send Mike home, where he remains embattled in ways that his suburban world cannot accommodate. Home, family, work, and health issues spiral into each other, sending Mike spinning like an unbalanced top. He comes up against his loved ones, his neighbors, his medical partners, and the law.

His erratic course is often of his own creation as he works his way through the far-reaching blowback from a war most Americans never see except in pixels or on TV. Yet he responds in ways that, when the one who abandoned Chloe to die is revealed, confirm for the reader many plausible reasons for having suspected the rest. 

Don’t Go, offering the epigram “Every war has its own signature wounds,” uses mystery to examine how the tragedy of a distant war reverberates at home. Even more lasting to this reader, however, was the earlier wound echoing through Mike’s life in a way that far too many have experienced first-hand.

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Kate Lincoln is a crime fiction writer whose day job is homeopathy.  She is a volunteer EMT for her local rescue squad.

See all of Kate Lincoln’s posts for Criminal Element.