Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: CRASH & BURN

CRASH & BURN by Lisa Gardner (Headline, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Lisa Gardner's latest psychological thriller includes appearances from private security specialist Tessa Leoni and Boston detective DD Warren, two fabulously real and complex heroines who've endured plenty over the course of various appearances and escapades in Gardner's #1 bestselling novels. But while Tessa and DD add texture to this tale of a mysterious woman who survives a car crash only to lead rescuers on a chase for a child that may not exist, they aren't the central characters this time around.

CRASH & BURN is Nicky Frank's story. But just who is Nicky Frank? Is she a drunk who ran off the road then tried to elicit sympathy with a search for her 'missing child'? Is she confused from a series of concussions and accidents the past few months? An abused wife? Or someone trying to hide her past, even from herself?

Gardner has the reader off-balance and intrigued right from the start, as we switch between Nicky's perspective on the events around her, and that of others involved. Sergeant Wyatt Foster (Tessa's new man) is investigating the car crash and trying to work out just what the heck is going on. Does he need to protect the public from Nicky Frank? Or Nicky Frank from her husband, who is acting suspiciously? Gardner captures well the confusion and frustration of those suffering traumatic brain injuries or repeated concussions, as well as the uncertainty and emotion for the people around them who struggle to cope and understand.

If Nicky herself doesn't know what is real and what is not, what is a memory and what is fantasy, how can Wyatt know whether her husband wants to help or harm her? How can he keep her and everyone else safe?

There is a terrific sense of pace and narrative drive in CRASH & BURN, building slowly but surely before a helter-skelter crescendo as things rapidly come together. We know that something sinister is going on, but Gardner keeps the answers tantalisingly out of reach of both Wyatt and the reader. The book is full of her trademark twists upon twists. Even when we know they're coming and try to predict things, she still manages to surprise in just how things unfold, and why. Gardner also does a great job touching on the problems of those suffering from a brain injury – the confusion and fear, the way in which these physical injuries can have such a profound impact on the mental and physical health of a person. Nicky's head injuries aren't just a convenient plot device – Gardner gives us an insight into this very real issue. She makes us question, and care.

And that's the key to Gardner's storytelling talent – she makes us care. While her plotting is sublime and she nicely evokes the settings of her stories, it is in the depth and feeling of her characters where she excels the most. She makes us care about what happens to them, and engenders a visceral, very 'real' feeling as we turn the page and hurtle along the story. She can make us think, and feel, while being entertained.

A top-notch thriller from a top-notch writer.

This review was originally written for and published on Reviewing the Evidence

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