Love You More by Lisa Gardner
Few things are more satiating to a bookworm than a thriller that delivers even more than its substantial promise – which comprises, among other elements, front-cover testimony from Tess Gerritsen that Lisa Gardner’s Love You More is a “heart-pounding tale” from which she couldn’t tear herself away. So far, so good set-up.
In classic thriller style, Love You More opens with an italicized, breathless two-page prologue in which the two participants are unnamed. The kitchen of a family home; a repeated challenge (‘Who do you love?’); a loaded Sig Sauer within arm’s reach; a protagonist’s reflection on her husband and six-year-old daughter.
(As an aside, I have observed that American writers are more fond of this kind of intro: the Europeans, and particularly the Scandinavians, prefer a slower, slyer entrance to the story. Americans, by and large, don’t care to waste time with philosophical musings or unnecessary meanderings, and with Gardner, nary a sentence is wasted.)
Chapter One opens with the lead cop in the new case, Sergeant Detective DD Warren (a recurrent Gardner character) heading to the crime scene. Brian Darby, the aforementioned husband, is dead on his kitchen floor from three well-placed gunshot wounds to the torso, and daughter Sophie is missing.
His wife, State Trooper Tessa Leoni, called it in, and though the long-time law enforcement officer is clearly shocked and grieving, something doesn’t ring true. Warren is certain that Leoni is withholding information and knows more than she claims to about the whereabouts of her daughter and the circumstances of her husband’s death, and when an autopsy reveals that Brian Darby’s body was put on ice for some hours after his death, and then staged to appear freshly dead for the arrival of the police, the hounds are set loose on Tessa Leoni.
So ensues a battle of wills and cop-intellect in which two complex and unusual females – both Leoni and Warren defy simple descriptors – are forced to witness and confront what a mother will do for her child. Though it seems so oft-tread a theme as to be tiresome, Gardner’s skill at teasing out the freshness and humanity from her jaded cast is to be admired.
What is also commendable is her rabbit-from-a-hat dexterity with story, and I don’t expect to find a more compelling scene in any thriller this year than the episode in which Leoni, leading investigators to her daughter’s burial site, stages an audacious, violent deception that spins the plot on its axis.
Some readers may grow weary of the taste of red herrings in Love You More – flashbacks that we are later encouraged to distrust, hints that Leoni could be something more sinister than a grieving wife and fearful mother – but there are none that stretch the boundaries of plausibility, and all serve the purpose of heightening the suspense.
Love You More possesses every requisite of a good thriller, and several of a great one. Lisa Gardner should take a bow.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones