Crash and Burn opens straightforwardly enough with an automobile tumbling down a hillside in northern New Hampshire, nearly killing Nicole Frank, the intoxicated woman driver. But as the story unfolds, it turns out to be anything but straightforward. Frank sets police off on an intensive, wide-ranging search for her daughter, who is nowhere to be found — and the story becomes steadily more puzzling as the days go by. Frank, it turns out, had suffered three concussions in recent months, raising suspicions about her relationship with her husband, Thomas.
Above all, Crash and Burn is an able police procedural, following Sergeant Wyatt Foster of the North County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division and his remarkable young sidekick, Detective Kevin Santos, as they pick their way forward to an understanding of what happened in that crash. “An accident like this wasn’t reconstructed in a matter of hours,” author Lisa Gardner explains, “but in a matter of days, if not weeks. But they would do it. Thoroughly. Meticulously.” As she then proceeds to reveal.
Crash and Burn by Lisa Gardner @@@@ (4 out of 5)
As his investigation unfolds, Sergeant Foster must also confront a more personal mystery: his girlfriend, a cop herself, was suspected of murdering her ex-husband, and evidence may now be emerging that she was, indeed, responsible. Gardner skillfully weaves this subplot together with Foster’s pursuit of the truth about Nicole and Thomas Frank.
Recently two crime thrillers by women authors have virtually dominated the bestseller lists: first, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and, more recently, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. (I reviewed Gone Girl here and The Girl on the Train here.) Until Crash and Burn began getting a little ragged as its conclusion approached, I was tempted to think it approached the brilliance of Gone Girl. It falls short of that exalted standard but, in my not-so-humble opinion, Crash and Burn is more satisfying in the end than the highly contrived, coincidence-riddled The Girl on the Train.
Beware, though: Gardner needs a better editor. There are few phrases in literature more notorious than “a dark and stormy night,” which appears in the lead sentence for Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s atrocious 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, often held up as the worst opening ever written. As I recall, that phrase appears four times in Crash and Burn.
Lisa Gardner is the author of eighteen crime novels and, writing under the name Alicia Scott, thirteen romance novels. Her books frequently appear on the New York Times bestseller list.
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