Three women. They don’t know each other, yet. One is a dedicated pediatric psych nurse, dreading the 25th anniversary of the day that made her a lone survivor. The second is an exhausted single mother, coping with the full-time care of her mentally ill 8-year-old son. The third is a tough cop, married to her job in Boston’s homicide unit. Five days in August bring these women together. Their connection: murder.
From the red and black cover all the way to the final plot twist, Live to Tell is a gripping, hard-edged suspense. Although it’s the 4th book in the Detective D.D. Warren series, it can easily be enjoyed as a stand-alone.
The prologue immediately establishes a menacing atmosphere as RN Danielle Burton shares her first-person account of what happened 25 years ago when her father murdered her whole family, all-the-while calling out to 9-year-old Danielle in an eerie sing-song before turning the gun on himself. As the anniversary of that terrible day approaches, Danielle tries to stay busy, putting in longer and longer hours at work. But without sleep, and with her father’s voice chanting in her head from beyond the grave, she’s almost at the breaking point.
The narration shifts to Victoria Oliver, a woman in a daily struggle to survive the violence and verbal abuse in her key-in, key-out home. Victoria’s first-person narration creates a strong connection with the reader who feels her panic as she stays up all night, trying to keep track of all the knives in the house in an effort to stay one step ahead of someone who has vowed to kill her, someone she desperately loves.
The roller-coaster narration between characters continues when 38-year-old Detective D.D. Warren picks up the story. Her account is told in the third-person limited style, creating a little more distance between the law enforcement professional and the reader. She may be a beautiful woman who likes good food and intelligent men who make her laugh, but she’s a cop first; she thrives on stress and she’s great at her job.
The action begins early when Detective Warren’s pager interrupts a long-awaited dinner date. A family has been murdered. Attractive colleague Alex Wilson thinks it’s the work of a family annihilator. Father loses job; decides his whole family is better off dead; kills everyone; and then turns the gun on himself. But neighbors have only good things to say about Patrick Harrington. It’s the Harrington’s youngest child, 9 year-old Ozzie, who made neighbors shiver. Clues lead in several directions; one of the first is the Pediatric Evaluation Clinic of Boston, the psychiatric hospital where Ozzie was once a patient and where Danielle Burton currently works as a nurse.
As a setting, the PECB creates a heightened sense of danger. The young patients undergoing residential treatment there suffer from severe mental illness that often manifests in self-mutilation and acts of violence. Many survived unimaginable trauma before arriving at the acute care facility. And, despite the best care from dedicated professionals who rely on progressive techniques, each day at the PECB teeters on chaos.
Pacing increases and tension grows as the calendar counts down to the anniversary of the murder of Danielle’s family. With chapters grouped by day-of-the-week, all of the action takes place in just 5 days, the body count steadily rising along with the list of possible suspects. Who did it is almost impossible to guess until the very end of the book and the question of why remains a mystery until the epilogue finally wraps up the loose ends.
With a narrow time frame, menacing atmosphere, damaged characters, violent action, and roller-coaster narration, Live to Tell is a fast-paced, heart-pounding suspense, a perfect example of the genre.