There’s something great about reading the next book in a series – it’s like an exciting new adventure with an old friend. You know all their secrets, passions and dreams; and, even though some time has passed since you were last together, when you open that book cover it’s as though you’d never been apart. This is what bestselling author Lisa Gardner accomplishes in her Detective D.D. Warren series: she has made it her specialty to take us to places we never thought we’d go.
Look For Me, sees the return of both beloved Detective D.D. Warren and Flora Dane, the victim-turned-vigilante from Find Her and takes them on a case involving the brutal deaths of an entire family, with one teenager missing. It may get dark and more than a little violent, but Gardner’s writing is eloquent and fluid, her plots well-planned out, and her characters resilient, determined and so relatable, that Look For Me is one read you cannot miss.
BookTrib was able to sit down and talk with Lisa Gardner about researching her latest novel, surviving, writing kick-ass women and more.
BookTrib: You’ve been writing suspense/thrillers for years – each book has been a bestseller, they’re rich stories that go to some pretty dark places, yet they’re so well planned-out. What is the research and planning part like for you?
Lisa Gardner: Like most of my novels, ‘Look For Me’ was inspired by a real-life case, kind of a ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ situation. One of the things that I often do when I’m not writing is just following true-crime cases. So, there were several cases where an entire family had been murdered and a teenager is missing. In 50 percent of the cases, the teenager is involved – they got into drugs, had a boyfriend that convinced her she had to kill off her whole family, something like that. But in the other half, the child is in danger – the family was murdered to, say, kidnap the daughter. It is a genuine Amber Alert situation.
We’re captivated by these cases in real life and when they first break, no one knows the answer – just, “What happened to this family?” That’s when I want to understand the situation better – if you were a police detective, what would you do? You clearly have an urgent situation, you need to learn about this family very quickly, but of course, they’re dead, the other one is missing – how do you even begin to approach it? Do you think of yourself as searching for a killer, or do you think of yourself as searching for a victim?
I’ll meet with law enforcement and I’ll give them the fictionalized situation, and basically ask, “In the real world, how would you approach this?” I believe very strongly that in thrillers you always want your detectives being the smartest cops out there. It was interesting for me because it’s actually been 25 years since I started writing and policing itself is constantly evolving. There are several detectives that I now have longstanding relationships with and they’re like, “Oh, I was just at this seminar, and here’s the latest and greatest in what’s new.”
BookTrib: You get to keep up-to-date with the new police technology and procedures as they’re introduced.
LG: Yes, and one of the interesting things for cops right now are all these new devices like Amazon’s Echo or Alexa. These devices are recording small, 30 second increments of time, but already a Fitbit has been used in a murder case. They just subpoenaed a digital water gauge that was used, really just to show water usage, but it showed the suspect had gone through thousands of gallons of water at 2 AM, because he was hosing down the patio after he murdered his wife.
It’s the real-world policing that gets really fascinating and in the case of ‘Look For Me’ one of the first things everyone was talking to me about is that in a major urban environment like Boston, there are eyes everywhere. The issue isn’t getting leads, it isn’t getting information; it’s how to manage the information in any kind of thoughtful and strategic way. There are so many cameras, so how do you pour through them? Which ones do you decide to look at first?
But that then raises the next question for me because we don’t want to find Roxy, our missing teenager, on page two, right? So how do you hide in a town like Boston? And that is something I hadn’t even anticipated, but after talking to the cops, it’s like first you get to play the good guy, think “If I were the detective this is what I would do.” Then I get to play the bad guy.
BookTrib: Speaking of detectives for a moment, Detective D.D. Warren has developed and evolved, really grown as a character over the years. Did you know from the beginning that this is where you wanted to take her, that she was going to change in these ways, or has she surprised you as the series has gone along?
LG: It’s a total surprise to me. Detective D.D. Warren is actually named after my real-life neighbor, who is beautiful and blonde, but she’s also known for her gardening and cooking skills — so not really like the fictional D.D. Warren! But I used her name because I thought D.D. Warren would only be a chapter or two in ‘Alone.’ I basically had a book where I needed a Boston cop and I liked the idea of this unapologetically brash, workaholic, married-to-her-job detective who would say all the things that I was raised way too politely to ever say. I think in the very first scene she’s wearing the T-shirt that has ‘Felonious’ scrawled all over it. But it’s the attitude, I think, that really just captured people’s attentions. She loves her job and she makes no apologies for it; this is what she lives for. Readers were so responsive, and my editor was like, “What about another book with her?” and I thought, “I could see another book, she’s fun!” And now I think it’s ten books, not one, so we were kind of off on that count.
To make this work as a series, I need there to be a challenge for D.D. and I think that has also really worked for readers, where here is a detective who excels at her job; she is so comfortable at a crime scene and you know, not all of us can say that! But her personal life is a genuine struggle for her. She never expected to fall in love, or get married, or have a five-year-old son, whom clearly she adores. But being a working mom is something she never even thought would happen and I think that gives her a certain level of relatability. We’re not all kick-ass detectives, but we do know what it’s like in this modern day to juggle and to wonder “who are we shortchanging, what did we just mess up?”
BookTrib: As a counterpart to D.D., Look For Me sees the return of Flora Dane from Find Her, which I was not expecting! When you were writing Find Her, did you know that Flora was someone you would be bringing back?
LG: Not at all! It’s funny, because that character, our victim-turned-vigilante, clearly struck a chord. And ‘Find Her’ was one of the hardest books to write. It was again inspired by one of these real-life cases where you have women who have been abducted and held, kidnapped for long, long periods of time – more than 10 years and in some cases, more than 20 years. Unfortunately, there is a lot of research material out there.
I think it is a captivating search, that here are people who have gone through the worst and as Flora herself would tell you, this is supposed to be her happily ever after: she made it out, she survived. So why can’t she feel happy? Why does she still feel so isolated, so dead inside? I think that is just so poignant to all of us trying to feel connected. So, again, they were like, “Can you bring Flora back?”
I have to admit, I love her as a character. I spend a lot of time now with survivors’ groups and the phrase you hear a lot is “What does it mean to go from a survivor to a thriver?” In other words, how do you start defining your own success, because you can’t go back to the person you were. How do you figure out what the new normal is going to be?
I think there’s a lot of story left in Flora, I think this really is a real search. One of the things that she is discovering is that she likes to help others. She can’t be a cop like D.D. is, because she can’t follow rules that well – problems with authority figures – but she is finding a sense of purpose in working with other victims and it’s interesting to give her and D.D. something of a shared goal.
Read Part Two of BookTrib’s interview with Lisa Gardner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Gardner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty novels, including Right Behind You, Find Her, Crash & Burn, Fear Nothing, Touch & Go, Catch Me, and The Neighbor, which won the International Thriller of the Year Award. She lives with her family in New England.
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