Seven years ago, young college student Florence ‘Flora’ Dane is kidnapped by a truck driver who keeps her as his personal toy for over four hundred days. Though she’s eventually found she struggles to find her place in society, to reform the bond with her family. In search of meaning, she sets out to find other missing women by going to bars, getting drunk, allowing men to pick her up and then turning into a fury when they try to hurt her. She’s clever, inventive, has good intuition, but she’s also traumatised and vulnerable and it’s clearly a matter of time before she finds someone who outsmarts her.
Not at the start of the novel, though: Flora invokes the wrath of investigating detective D.D. Warren because she sets fire to the man who kidnapped her. Then the first thing she does is call the FBI, which, if we’re led to believe cop shows and thrillers, is always a good thing if you want to piss off the police.
This is the second Lisa Gardner book I’ve read and in all honesty, I didn’t think I’d try her again after the first one. That one had a lot of warbling about little girls and princesses trapped in towers. It was BAD. So maybe my expectations going into this were low, but surprisingly, I enjoyed it. Flora is a likeable, interesting protagonist straddling that line between vulnerable and tough really well. Ultimately, Flora’s a survivor and she’s taught herself things no-one else could have taught her. Gardner goes a little overboard on the psychoanalysis during Flora’s inner monologue, but it’s not quite as bad as it was in the last book I read of hers.
The novel is told through two narratives: that of Flora, both in the past (as a captive) and the present (as a vigilante), and that of Warren, who is a lot less interesting. In this case that’s not a bad thing because we have plenty of personality with Flora and the narrative doesn’t necessarily need more distraction, it’s just that when Warren (I refuse to call her D.D., which is stupid) DOES get a bit more emotive it doesn’t really come across. The writing is a bit unevenly paced; too brief in some parts, too long-winded in others and occasionally oddly stilted, though that might have been my translation (I read the book in Dutch. Don’t do this).
The mystery itself is not predictable – the perpetrator wasn’t who I thought it was – and I liked that Gardner managed to put me on the wrong track a couple of times. The parts where Flora talks about her life as a captive are hard to read, though. Her captor locks her in a coffin for large stretches of time; when he does let her out, Flora is so intensely grateful that it hurts. At one point, she digs her fingers into the dirty carpet, trying to pull out strings so she can take them with her when he locks her back in. Not in some sort of ludicrous escape plan, mind you – but because the sensory deprivation is literally killing her. The bits of string, at least, will be something to play with. It broke my heart.
This is the eighth book in a series focusing on Warren and while I’m not sure I’m going to read the rest, I liked it enough that I might consider it. But it’s Flora who saves this novel, in more than one way. So many women in fiction are either doormats or supernaturally smart and powerful. Flora is neither. Flora’s a survivor. She adaps, she learns. I’d like to see what else she’s capable of.