Touch & Go is Gardner’s fifteenth novel of suspense, and marks a departure from the author’s Detective D.D. Warren novels, as well as her earlier FBI profiler series. While Detective Warren does have a periphery presence in the book, it’s Tessa Leoni (2011’s Love You More) who serves as this particular story’s leading lady.
As the book opens, investigator Tessa Leoni – a former Massachusetts state trooper once accused of shooting her husband dead – is called to the scene of an apparent kidnapping. Missing from their elite Back Bay home are the Denbe family, Justin and Libby, along with their fifteen-year-old-daughter, Ashlyn. Little is left behind but scuff marks on the floor, Taser confetti in the foyer, and the family’s personal effects on the kitchen counter. A family vanished without a trace. But why?
Though early indications are that Justin and Libby shared a storybook romance – the perfect family, the perfect life – Tessa knows well that terrible truths are often hidden behind happy facades. As she delves deeper into the Denbes’ relationship, she learns that Justin had been unfaithful to his wife, and that Libby knew of his infidelity and may have been contemplating divorce. In addition to these personal stressors, it also becomes apparent that those of a professional nature abound, as Justin’s company is less financially sound than presented.
Of course, good stories are driven by dynamic characters, and it’s the interplay between these people that truly drives the narrative. In addition to Justin, Libby, and Ashlyn, who are in an absolute state of crisis, there’s a motley crew of business associates who are either loyalists or liars (or both) – and whose desires for self-preservation threaten the possibility of a swift resolution. And finally, there’s Tessa, who’s still trying to redefine herself in the wake of her own tragedy. She must contend with biased members of law enforcement (while finding unexpected camaraderie with others) while also balancing an investigation with caring for her young, traumatized daughter.
Gardner skillfully alternates between first and third person points of view, allowing Libby Denbe to methodically reveal her story as Tessa conducts her investigation. This proves to be a powerful and penetrating device, as Libby’s growing desperation at the hands of her abductor(s) serves to heighten the tension of Tessa’s race against the clock. Further, Libby’s passages provide an absolutely penetrating look inside the failings of a supposedly perfect family. It’s riveting stuff – and arguably as compelling as the crime itself, if not more so.
While some readers may not find Touch & Go to be as immediately accessible as Gardner’s recent series entries, patience is rewarded with payoff. After all, Gardner is considered to be one of the best in the business, and for good reason. She delivers twist after twist, pulling off complexities with apparent ease, all culminating in a breathtaking finale that is both satisfying and surprising. Ultimately, it’s readers who are taken captive – and Gardner who is holding the reins, every step of the way…
With thanks to Emily Brock, Marketing and Publicity Assistant at Dutton, for providing a review copy of Touch & Go.