Author of the Month

Name: Lisa Gardner

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: Find Her

'We’ve had ‘Gone Girl’… now we have ‘Find Her’.'

Flora Dane was kidnapped – and survived. She survived after four hundred and seventy-two days. She was kept in a box most of the time – only let out when her captor deigned to feed and water her. She came out of it alive… which is more than could be said for her tormentor, Jacob Ness. But then again, maybe he was the lucky one, and not her. Flora has to live day to day, constantly conquering her fears, trying to deal with being a different woman, one shaped by being inside a wood coffin for over a year. But is there more to Flora than she is telling?

D.D. Warren meets Flora naked, having just set fire to Devon Goulding who had kidnapped Flora and possibly other women, one in particular – Stacey Summers. Stacey has been missing for months and Flora suspects Goulding was involved. However, she managed to set him on fire and now they guy is dead, burned to a crisp. Enter Dr. Samuel Keynes who is Flora’s ‘friend’ who happens to also be an FBI agent. He tries to protect Flora, but D.D. feels he is just being obstructive – even if in a polite manner. And then that same day, Flora goes missing, presumed kidnapped. It is now down to Warren and Keynes to track down those who have abducted her before any harm comes to Flora, they must ‘find her’.

‘Find Her’ is an exceptional novel. This in no way glorifies kidnapping or sensationalises it, this is ‘get your hands dirty’ dark stuff. Gardner shifts attention to and from D.D. to Flora. She breathes life in to Flora making me feel at points that I was reading someone’s autobiography rather than a piece of fiction. Gardner chronicles the smallest, infinitesimal detail to bring her pictures alive so that the sounds, smells and in some cases, the fear is palpable and pungent. Gardner perfectly balances it so I felt repulsed but at the same time was propelled onwards. My friend, Helen perfectly vocalised what I was thinking: ‘you feel like an intruder in Flora’s thoughts, her fears and it makes you feel uncomfortable, as though you shouldn’t be listening in, but Gardner makes you feel as though you can’t help but stay and hear more’! And that’s it in a nutshell.

I don’t think I have felt more uncomfortable reading a book and at the same time had that tingling feeling since I read ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ – and that was WAY back in the day! Of course this features D.D. and other regulars, but to me this is Flora’s story, her journey. The scenes following Flora’s second abduction are some of the tortuous I have read in many a year. The psychological torment that follows the physical will make your skin crawl. I interviewed Lisa in London last year and you couldn’t meet a nicer, lovelier, funnier lady – but boy! – am I gonna watch her close next time we meet! There are dark depths in that lady! ‘Find Her’ is Lisa Gardner at full throttle. You've had ‘Gone Girl’… now read ‘Find Her’.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) FIND HER focuses on Flora (Florence) Dane who was a kidnap victim and held hostage for four hundred and seventy-two days. What was the nucleus for this idea?
I became fascinated with the number of high-profile kidnapping cases we’ve seen around the world, with people held for extraordinary amounts of time. We’ve had some cases in the US where girls were held for ten, fifteen, even twenty years before finally being freed. It starts to make you wonder, what is freedom/what is the happy ever after in a scenario like that one? If you’ve been held for over a year of your life, is freedom and getting away everything you hoped it would be? Those are the questions that start to drive FIND HER. Flora Dane has survived, she has come out the other side… or has she?
2) Did you speak to victims who have been held captive against their will? If so, how did you feel when you heard their story? Did it change the feel of the novel from what you had originally intended?
Before writing the novel I read a bunch of memoirs and biographies, and I’m sad to say that there were more than enough case studies out there and many very brave victims who have told their stories. The part that stuck with me the most is that in these long-term situations it does become almost like a family. Your kidnapper can’t be evil twenty-four hours a day. No one can be evil twenty-four hours a day; it’s actually too much work. So, in between these bouts of terror, abuse and violence there are also movie nights; the night he bought home a new dress; the night they would all get together and watch their favourite show on TV… And to captives these things that seemed ‘almost’ normal did ‘become’ their normal. Those are the moments that are hardest to overcome. You can hate someone and the emotions are very pure, but when you have all those other memories that go with them they become almost like an abusive parent in your life. You hate them, you’re angry, you’re resentful, but they’re still a parent. And that dynamic I thought was really fascinating. How do you move on from that point?
3) Although D.D. and Tessa get top billing with your books, (this latest featuring D.D.) I feel FIND HER is Flora’s book just as ‘Crash and Burn’ was Nicky’s story. You go in-depth about their back story which is fascinating. What is it about their history that compels you to weave it into your investigation?
Flora Dane is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever written and I also think FIND HER is the most psychological book I’ve ever written. It’s about a girl trying to find her way back to herself: a survivor. Part of that journey is to understand that maybe you can’t… maybe you have to find a new self. Who is that new self? Who do you want them to be?

The scenes that were so powerful for me in FIND HER were the ones between Flora Dane and her mother. Her mother fought so hard to get her daughter back, gave up her job, did everything to search for her, to only end up with a girl who can’t even bear to be hugged by her own mom.

And Flora’s own sense of shame: she’s free! She escaped! She’s normal! But that she can’t stand to be hugged by her mom: that haunts her.
So the book really is all about Flora. It’s been five years since the worst thing happened to her, yet why isn’t she more like her old self?
4) In FIND HER you introduce Dr Samuel Keynes who works alongside D.D. in this case. I really liked him. Will Keynes be making more appearances?
I hope so. All of my books have a root in real life, and I like to try to bring readers a piece of law enforcement that maybe they’ve never heard of before. For FIND HER, the new position was something the FBI has now, called the Office of Victim Assistance. And it has to do with the fact that you get these very big cases: someone has been missing for years, the family needs help and resources for the search, and then frankly the victim needs help coming back to reality, and that is Dr Samuel Keynes. I got to interview two FBI Victim Advocates to create his character. I feel like he’s almost the voice of reason. There’s no such thing as a single way of surviving. There’s no such thing as a single survivor: it is a journey and everyone’s journey is going to look different. So Flora’s not going to be able to return to her old self, her goal to be to find a way to love herself again.
5) Your series characters D.D. Warren and Tessa Leoni cross over in each other’s novels, which is quite unique as many writers prefer to keep different series separate. Why do you buck this trend and what do you feel it brings to your books?
I like the opportunity to bring my characters together. I think it’s interesting for me as a writer, and I think it’s interesting for readers, too. If you’re working a big case, you’re going to have lots of different people from law enforcement involved, so why not bring in Detective D.D. Warren, why not have her consulting, or ask for some help from a private investigator, Tessa Leoni? Why not the FBI agent, Kimberley Quincy, from my original profiler books? That’s realistic. That’s how cases work. I also think it is fun for readers to catch up with characters and old friends. I’ve certainly populated my books with some very strong female characters, who even if they respect each other definitely have their differences of opinion, and I think that’s kind of fun, too.
6) You started writing romantic suspense as Alicia Scott before writing as Lisa Gardner. How different was your writing back then to how you write now? Did you enjoy the ‘romantic suspense’ genre or do you feel ‘at home’ with the ‘grittier’ writing you are now producing?
I think starting out in romantic suspense was the right fit for me. They were books I love to read, but they were ‘smaller’, they had a very ‘small’ focus. I think it was the act of writing them and learning how to write those books ¬– and in particular with romantic suspense having to focus on character because those readers care about character the most – that helped me gain confidence. I think at a certain point, because I love puzzles, and I love complicated plots, I started playing around with grittier crimes, doing more hands-on research, and all of that led very naturally to what I am writing now, which are ‘bigger’ books, where characters remain important, but the plots are much more complicated. It was a good way to grow in to where I am now.
7) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
It’s basic advice: read, read, read. You have to love this business, you have to love books. I still read romance, I still read suspense, I read non-fiction, I read crime novels, forensic novels, the Cheerios box! You need to read a lot. Respect it all and love it all. It’s how you fuel a writer; the more you read the more things you’ll have to write about.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I am a HUGE fan of crime novels. Karin Slaughter’s COP TOWN I think is amazing. 1970s policing in Atlanta, and fabulously well done.

I’ve done something unusual and read a debut series novel twice in the last six months because I liked it so much, and that’s Gregg Hurwitz’s ORPHAN X, and it’s a very action-based crime novel, but the character Orphan X is so compelling as this completely methodically trained assassin who now wants to do something meaningful with his life, but what he does best – his skillset – is killing people. It’s an action novel but with a lot of heart.

There are so many good books, because I do read all the time… You could choose anything by Tess Gerritsen… Karen Rose…but I will go with Lee Child. I save his books to read on the plane because I know I will be transported, and I really like his recent one, MAKE ME. Sometimes in this industry it’s not always ‘what’s the best book?’ sometimes it’s ‘what’s the best character?’ and I think what Lee gets credit for, with Jack Reacher, is that he revitalised and brought to the genre a great character - one that obviously appeals to millions, too!