We are only fourteen days into the new year, but I already have read what is sure to be a contender for suspense readers' lists of the Top Ten Books for 2005. ALONE by Lisa Gardner continues her string of riveting novels, upping the ante from 2003's excellent THE KILLING HOUR.
While there are a number of memorable characters in ALONE --- including an obligatory but nonetheless frightening bogeyman --- it is essentially the story of two people whose lives are intertwined by a fateful moment and an act. Bobby Dodge is more than a Massachusetts State Policeman; he is a member of the Special Tactics and Operations Team (STOP), an elite unit drawn from all over the state to assist where and when needed. Dodge is just unwinding from a long day when he receives word of a situation involving a domestic barricade with hostages. Dodge is a designated sniper and is very good at what he does. He evaluates the situation and sees a man with a gun, and a woman and child who appear to be in immediate danger. He takes the man out, thus saving the woman and child. It is, by all appearances, a clean shoot.
Dodge's problems, however, are just beginning. The dead man is Jimmy Gagnon, the son of a prominent and powerful judge. The woman and child, Gagnon's wife and son, have a history of their own. As a child Catherine Gagnon was known as The Thanksgiving Miracle. Abducted and abused for 28 days, she was miraculously discovered and rescued by hunters. But her ordeal left hidden scars upon her that run deep and hard. Nathan Gagnon, her son, is ravaged by a mysterious malady that seems to rob his body of nourishment and that no doctor seems able to diagnose.
Shortly before the fateful night that the Gagnons entered Dodge's life --- and he theirs --- Jimmy had filed for divorce, seeking sole custody of Nathan. Judge Gagnon is now pursuing a murder charge against Dodge, inferring that he and Catherine colluded in plotting Jimmy's death. The charge seems ridiculous on its face, as Dodge had never even met these people. Yet the evidence seems to be inexplicably piling up against him. Catherine, meanwhile, is not all who she seems. Using her dark, intriguing sensuality with a sinister twist, Catherine attempts to play Dodge like a finely-tuned Stradivarius, manipulating him into helping her against forces both seen and unseen, from the past and the present, that seek to invade her life and take from her everything she holds dear.
The ending (and even the middle) of ALONE is impossible to predict. Gardner wrings every possible surprise out of the storyline, and continues to do so until practically the last page. Everyone in the book is suspect; no one is precisely who they seem to be. Impeccably plotted and superbly written, ALONE is a novel that will leave you torn between racing to finish it and lingering over its characterizations. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010