In the middle of a dark and rainy night in New Hampshire, a car crashes off the road into a deep ravine – the driver, a woman with a bottle of whiskey smashed beside her on the seat, is hurt, drunk and disoriented, but knows one thing for sure: that she is “a woman twice returned from the dead”, and that she is looking for her little girl named Vero.
This is the beginning of the aptly named “Crash and Burn” – part thriller, part ghost story, part love story. Seasoned writer Lisa Gardner brings together two of her previous series characters – Detective D.D. Warren and investigator Tessa Leoni – to team up with Sergeant Wyatt Foster to investigate the aftermath of the crash. While at first the case seems fairly straight forward to Foster as a drunk driving accident, things become much more complicated when he discovers that the crashed car was pushed, rather than driven down the hill, and that according to the driver’s husband there is no small girl called Vero.
This narrative is brilliantly crafted by Gardner, who lets Nicky – the driver of the car – tell her story in her own words, her mind veering between past and present, reality and another world which is compellingly mysterious, due to the fact that Nicky cannot remember her past. Images, scenes and characters continue to pop up, but neither Nicky nor the reader has any way of coherently putting them together. Interspersed with Nicky’s story is the story of the police investigation, told from the points of view of Sergeant Foster and Tessa Leoni, who, in a previous novel, have started a somewhat precarious relationship that is contrasted to the relationship between Nicky and her secretive and possibly dangerous husband Thomas.
The novel holds the tension on a tight rope from beginning to end – the psychological suspense carries this novel in such a way that it would be a hard job to put the book down before the eventual conclusion. The plotline is so compelling and skilfully revealed that even the couple of small incongruities in the action are ignorable. The themes of the novel are suitably dark, and centre on the things that people will do for survival and a chance at what they perceive to be happiness. The idea of severe post- traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in relationship to memory is nicely explored by the author, who is a self-confessed research addict, and who has obviously undertaken a thorough research process for this novel.
Lisa Gardner is a prolific writer who has written over thirty novels, including the ones she writes under the name of Alicia Scott, and has appeared on bestseller lists throughout the world. If “Crash and Burn” is anything to go by then it is either time to go back and start reading some of her old novels, or else sit tight and wait for the next instalment by this terrific writer.