The last thing Boston Detective D.D. Warren remembers is walking the crime scene after dark. Then, a creaking floorboard, a low voice crooning in her ear… She is later told she managed to discharge her weapon three times. All she knows is that she is seriously injured, unable to move her left arm, unable to return to work.
This is the seventh in the DD Warren series and, seriously, it’s a goodie. Veering between DD’s narrative and that of the other female protagonist, Dr Adeline Glen, it explores the experience of pain – DD’s in constant pain, and Adeline can’t feel any pain at all. Between the two of them, there’s a great exploration of just how difficult it is to function when your body screams in pain and you’ve turned into a helpless shadow of your former self. And, the counter point, how dangerous it actually is to not be able to feel pain. To not know if you’ve been cut, have a fracture, to have to examine your skin every night to see if there’s an unfelt gash anywhere.
This novel might as well have been titled ‘Skin’ – Adeline’s father, Harry Day used to cut and slice the skin of his victims. Her sister, Shana, is in jail for murdering a 12-year-old boy, her fate sealed when she handed her victim’s bloodied ear to her foster mother. And, now, there’s a killer loose in Boston targeting women and slicing their skin into strips, just like Harry Day.
‘Skin’ would be an apt title also because of the close proximity of blood – the blood of the victims, and Adeline’s blood relatives: sociopath Shana who can’t feel emotions, her murderous father, and mysteriously compliant mother. Every family is complex and this novel explores just how genetic are our own predispositions. Did Harry pass on his love of painful deaths to Shana? Can well-behaved Adeline really bypass her genetics? Can Shana and Adeline have a sisterly relationship when they’ve been apart for so long – Shana in foster care before being jailed at 14, Adeline raised by an academic adoptive father.
And, in the background, there’s a cast of characters well fleshed out (oops!) Superintendent McKinnon who manages the prison, Charles Sgarzi who’s trying to cash in on the murders with a book, DD’s husband Alex who is now almost her carer.
As with previous Gardner novels, the voices here are strong and clear, with each character well drawn out – Adeline teasing out her relationship to her blood family, DD teasing out her relationship to her pain.
At the heart of the novel is the usefulness of pain – pain of the heart telling us how deep our emotions for a loved one run; pain of the body telling us how hard our body is working despite its injuries. Just as, very often, nothing is as it seems (particularly in crime novels!), so pain can be less of a pain and more of a storyteller if we change the narrative from giving out to listening.
Honestly, this was a really enjoyable book, the first unputdownable (is that a word?) book I’ve read in a while. And I missed that feeling, so thanks, Lisa Gardner!