1991 novel by John Grisham
Guest Reviewer: Joseph Finder
Joseph Finder planned to become a spy. Or maybe a professor of Russian history. Instead he became a bestselling thriller writer, and winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel for Killer Instinct and winner of the Barry and Gumshoe Awards for Best Thriller for Company Man.
I just took a break from writing my new book to read the latest by Lisa Gardner, who's one of the very few writers on my must-read list. Usually, when I'm deep into a novel, I read very little in the genre. But Lisa Gardner sent me an advance copy of Love You More, and I pretty much dropped everything and read it through the weekend.
I've been a fan of Lisa's D.D. Warren series for some time, but she's truly outdone herself with this one. It grabs you on the first page and keeps you guessing until the final chapter, moving effortlessly between first person and third person narration, weaving an extraordinary amount of research into nonstop action.
Love You More starts with a crime we think we understand. Massachusetts State Trooper Tessa Leoni's husband Brian is dead in their kitchen, and Trooper Leoni has been beaten almost to death. It looks to everyone like a case of a battered wife defending herself at last. But Leoni's six-year-old daughter, Sophie, is missing, and the trooper's story is full of holes--holes that become even wider and more curious as Boston Police Detective Sergeant D.D. Warren and her old lover, friend and former partner Bobby Dodge investigate.
Warren is dealing with issues of her own, as her relationship with Alex (who never appears in person in this installment) reaches a major turning point, one with implications for Warren's investigation and beyond. (I'm not going to give away what that is. You'll have to read it to find out for yourself.) The nature and power of Trooper Leoni's attachment to her daughter are central to this story: just how much does Leoni love her daughter, and to what lengths will she go to protect her? Is it possible that a mother so devoted could kill her own child?
As Warren and Dodge follow the trail of clues, they uncover secrets at every turn: a terrible crime in Leoni's adolescence, a shameful secret of her husband's, and unimaginable betrayal among comrades and friends. Stakes escalate to a climax that is shocking, sad and deeply satisfying.
Love You More stands out in the crowded field of thrillers not only because it's a terrific book, but because it features two compelling and believable female protagonists. Trooper Leoni tells us her own story in the first person, alternating with the third-person narrative of Warren's investigation. Leoni's motives emerge over the course of the book, but her passion and conviction draw us in even before we know whether she's guilty or innocent. We cannot argue with her absolute drive, even as we root for Warren and Dodge to make sure justice is done. It's a remarkable juggling act that requires rare talent, and readers will be anxious for the next installment in D.D. Warren's adventures.
I've noticed that a lot of guys have some kind of prejudice against thrillers written by women. Take my word for it: Lisa Gardner has the suspense chops to compete with Harlan Coben, Lee Child, and Michael Connelly. Anyone who's already read Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter, Sandra Brown, or Mary Higgins Clark knows that some of the most gripping thrillers around are written by women.
If you haven't yet discovered Lisa Gardner, now's the perfect time to start. Love You More is going to win her a legion of new fans and launch her right to the top of the lists along with Nora Roberts and Tami Hoag--and Stieg Larsson.
A Letter from Author Lisa Gardner
True confession time: for a woman who makes her living writing extremely diabolical suspense novels, I have no stomach for gore. Scary movies? Can’t watch them. Most of the crime shows on prime time? Egads, no way! Haunted houses? My husband has had to carry me out. It’s embarrassing but true.
So when I first received the invitation to conduct research at the famed Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I didn’t know what to do with myself. As a forensics aficionado and thriller author, I just had to visit. A chance to learn first-hand how to search for buried remains? Or how to establish time of death for skeletal remains? Or the amount of forensic evidence that can still be retrieved from cremated bones? Sign me up!
On the other hand, this would involve walking the fabled Death’s Acre, which generally features several hundred decomposing bodies. I had to consider not just what I was going to see, but what I was going to smell, touch, feel. The squeamish mom in me worried I wouldn’t be able to take it. And no one wants to be the one who barfs in front of trained professionals.
What’s a girl gonna do? Of course I went.
The Anthropological Research Facility, aka the Body Farm, was founded in the early ‘80s by Dr. William Bass. Up until then, the discovery of decomposed remains often led to a time of death plus or minus several years. Obviously, this complicated the homicide investigation. Dr. Bass’s solution: bury a body, see how long it took to skelatonize, and scientifically establish a rate of decomp.
Of course, many variables immediately came into play: buried or unburied, clothed or clothed, hot humid conditions, cold frosty conditions, animal activity, insect activity, etc., etc. In the end, Dr. Bass couldn’t bury one body, he needed hundreds. Some donations were unclaimed remains from the ME’s office. Hundreds of others are directed donations from people who wanted to contribute to the advancement of science after their death.
This kind of generosity makes Death’s Acre less a macabre wooded plot and more like hallowed ground. Instead of listening to anthropologists merely analyze body parts, I heard stories of people and families, of victims and criminal prosecutions, of crafty murderers and even craftier forensics experts. I learned of stories told in bone.
Interestingly enough, the more the head anthropologist Dr. Lee Jantz humanized the remains we studied, the more bearable I found the sights and smells to be. When I cradled the feather-light cranial plate of a newborn infant in my hand, I could both marvel as its rose petal size and feel the weight of one parent’s heart-breaking contribution. I was both mesmerized by the skeleton collection, which took up endless rows of metal shelves, and amazed by how a scientist such as Dr. Jantz could pick up a single piece of cremated bone and tell you the person’s gender, approximate age, chronic health conditions and probable occupation.
Bones, I learned, aren’t just body parts, but an organic record of who we are, what we did, where we lived, and often, how we died. And in the right hands, bones allow the dead to speak. Think a murderer can cover his tracks with a burn barrel and lighter fluid? Think again. Think you can thwart time of death by freezing remains? Nope. Think you can get away with murder? Thanks to forensic anthropologists such as Dr. Jantz, not likely.
I came to the Body Farm expecting to be immersed in death, and instead, found a new appreciation for life. And while my family still refuses to let me tell stories about my research over dinner, I had a great time working with the anthropologists on my March 2011 release Love You More. Just remember, when you come to the key scene in the snowy woods—you’ll know which one I’m talking about—I worked for that scene.
I walked Death’s Acre, and I never threw up.