Flora Dane spent more than a year being hauled across the United States inside a cheap pine box. For four hundred and seventy-two days she was starved. Abused. Forced to do a monster’s bidding.
But Flora is strong. She survived. She started fighting back, helping other girls like herself. And then, seven years later, she wakes up in a blacked-out room, with a cheap pine box in the corner and someone breathing inside.
Lisa Gardner’s Find Her is a sinister and suspenseful whodunnit about a young woman who does what’s necessary to survive her worst nightmare, only to find the past won’t stay put.
When it comes to crime fiction, some days I’m in the mood for a smart literary thriller that innovates and challenges all my assumptions about the genre. Others, I want a straight-down-the-line whodunnit where the detective is the ‘voice of reason’ who sets out to see order restored. Find Her firmly fits the latter category—a relatively quick and ultimately comforting read. That said, Flora is an unusually complex victim and Gardner’s narrative has more psychological depth than your average crime thriller. As a side note, for my fellow thriller fans, I recently stumbled across an excellent piece in the New Yorker, ‘What Makes Great Detective Fiction, According to T. S. Eliot’, about why so many of us self-confessed literary snobs have such a soft spot for crime fiction, specifically whodunnits. Well worth a look.
But back to Find Her. The narrative is split three ways: Flora Dane’s memories from the first time she was kidnapped, her current abduction experience and Detective D. D. Warren’s search to find her. The mix of memory and real-time action allows Gardner to create suspense, but also challenge the reader’s assumptions about what it means to be a victim.
Find Her is my first D. D. Warren book (it’s number eight in the series) but it’s a stand alone, so it wasn’t a problem to jump right in. Given this is book eight, I expected more of D. D.. Gardner’s given her plenty of backstory, certainly. She’s recovering from an injury, presumably a side effect from her heroics in a previous story; she has a husband and son she hardly ever sees, and she clearly has a rich history with her team (although, they don’t play a huge role in this story). And that’s all well and good, but to me, she read as the coffee-guzzling, tough-talking workaholic cop cliché. Not bad, just vanilla. I found myself skimming her scenes to get back to Flora.
In Find Her D. D. teams up with an FBI victim specialist, Dr. Samuel Keynes, and in her acknowledgments, Gardner explains that before working on Find Her she hadn’t heard about victim specialists. Neither had I. As their title suggests, they work with victims and their families during and following an investigation. Keynes is one of the central figures in the novel, and, at first, I thought he’d be a font of psychological insight, maybe even Flora’s abductor—he knows more about what she went through the first time round than anyone. But mostly he just hangs around being incredibly well-dressed, taciturn and good looking (I couldn’t figure out if he’s supposed to be a red herring or not, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything). While the story focuses on the return of Flora’s trauma and Keyes is a key figure in helping her deal with that, he doesn’t contribute much that the reader doesn’t (or couldn’t) get through Flora and her mother, Rosa, or through plain old common sense. I was disappointed he didn’t have more influence on the story. It seemed like a missed opportunity.
By contrast, Flora is fascinating. The return of the repressed has long been a key trope of crime fiction, but it’s rare to read a victim who finds herself reliving the nightmare she thought she’d put behind her. The repetition amps up the tension and heightens Flora’s sense of entrapment. And Flora is determined to survive. More than that, she knows survival means doing whatever is necessary. Last time round, she had to do things she regretted—things she could only do by abandoning her sense of self and becoming someone unfamiliar and utterly ruthless. This time, she’s set on keeping her conscience clear. It’s refreshing to read a victim who’s done things that are unquestionably abhorrent and to put yourself in her shoes and question what you’d do in her position.
The plot is well-crafted and the tension taut throughout, with Gardner drip-feeding clues along the way. I sped through the story in a single sitting, eager to find out who had abducted Flora, but also what Flora had done that still haunted her seven years later.
Find Her is a thrilling read, and while it doesn’t break new ground, it’s a perfect page-turner to while away a winter’s evening or, in my case, a weekend heatwave.
Thank you to Random House for providing a copy of Find Her in exchange for an honest review.
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