Crash and Burn
I can remember a time when the song “Memory” from Cats was everywhere. I was reminded of that song while I read this book since part of the lyrics express exactly what the heroine in this novel feels as she tries to recapture a very elusive memory of her own. “I remember/A time I knew what happiness was/Let the memory live again.”
This book is supposed to be the third in the Tessa Leoni series and while it definitely includes her it doesn’t focus on her. The focus is on Nicky Frank, who one dark and stormy night flies off the road and into a deep gully. Initially the accident seems very cut and dried. Nicky reeks of alcohol and since it’s a single car accident, the only concern is getting the driver to the hospital and the car towed. But just as Nicky is being loaded into the ambulance she cries out, “Vero! I can’t find her. She’s just a little girl. Help Please, someone, God. Help!” Immediately it goes from just an accident scene to a search and rescue.
This is where Sergeant Wyatt Foster of the North Country Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division comes in. Readers of the Tessa Leoni series will recognize Wyatt from Touch and Go where he and Tessa first met. Here he takes a very central position as he leads the hunt for Vero. After a bit of fruitless searching around the scene for the girl, he and the other officers involved determine to call in the dogs. And this is where things get interesting because the dogs find the scent of only one person- Nicky. Endless explorations of the car and surrounding area point to one inevitable conclusion – whoever Vero is, she wasn’t travelling in the vehicle with the drunken Ms. Frank. Wyatt heads to the hospital to once more question their victim.
And the interesting level ratchets up a notch. Ms. Frank wasn’t at a legally impaired limit when she had the accident. Seems the alcohol she reeked of either spilled on her or was somehow poured on her. Additionally, this is the third blow to the head (concussion) Nicky has had in the past six months. Which might explain why she had law enforcement searching for hours for a child her husband insists doesn’t exist. Nicky, somewhat apologetically and abjectly, waves off the police. Her husband, somewhat belligerently, insists they leave. But Wyatt knows that something weird is going on here. Why would Nicky be so traumatized and desperate for them to find the child -what kind of weird hallucination was that? And why does she does she keep having life threatening accidents every few months? Quietly, Wyatt determines to get to the bottom of the mystery.
We as readers then switch to a first person perspective where we follow Nicky home. A place she barely recognizes and which seems fairly sinister to her. Why doesn’t she share a room with her husband? Why is she attached to the yellow quilt she finds in the room she has been using? Why are there gaps in her memory? And why is her husband hiding things in his room? Why is she in hers?
This story alternates between first person, where we follow Nicky as she tries to figure out what is happening to her and what occurred on the fateful night of the accident and third person as we spend time with Wyatt doing the same thing. The best portions for me were the time with Wyatt, where we see how his and Tessa’s relationship is going and visit old friends like D. D. Warren. I also just liked his portions because of how very much I like him – Wyatt is an easy going but brilliant cop. He is thorough and meticulous but somehow manages to blend that with genuine kindness and concern. He is so perfect for Tessa and I was delighted to spend time (however little it was) watching their slow, sweet relationship grow.
The portions with Nicky are interesting and engaging. I found myself frustratingly wondering what the heck was going on. Was her husband evil? Did Vero exist? Was Nicky crazy or was she the only sane person in the bunch? I couldn’t quite warm up to her, I never really liked her but I was desperate to find out what was happening with her, which is the point of a suspense novel so the author clearly did her job well.
And the resolution at the end of the novel definitely pays off. It was very unexpected.
Interesting characters, excellent pacing and a riveting mystery are the standards of a Lisa Gardner novel and this one showcases all those attributes brilliantly. I would go so far as to call this a must read for fans of the author and the genre.