The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

April 22, 2013

Phyllis Seesengood: Kidnapped family's issues exposed in thriller

JOPLIN, Mo. — From all appearances, Justin and Libby Denbe and their 15-year-old daughter, Ashlyn are the perfect, loving family in "Touch and Go," by Lisa Gardner. Justin owns a multi-million-dollar construction company that has provided their family with a life of wealth, including an elegant, multi-story Boston townhouse, cars and anything else that money can buy.

When Libby discovers that Justin had an affair with a much younger woman, she relegates him to a bedroom in the basement of their elegant Boston townhouse. Libby and Justin are trying to work through their marital problems by having occasional date nights.

They arrive home after a rather tense night out only to be attacked by intruders. Justin, Libby and Ashlyn are tasered, drugged and abducted with brutal efficiency by three armed men.

Northledge Investigations, the firm that handles security for Denbe Construction, employs Tessa Leoni to investigate the abduction.

Tessa, a private investigator, is the main character from "Love You More," an earlier novel by Lisa Gardner. D. D. Warren, the character in another popular Gardner series, makes a brief but welcome cameo appearance in this novel.

The Boston police, the FBI and Tessa begin to fit together pieces of the puzzle of the missing family. Wyatt Foster, a New Hampshire sheriff, assists with the case when the investigation reveals that the abductors and their prisoners have crossed the state line into New Hampshire.

Tessa and Wyatt find the investigation perplexing. How did the kidnappers enter the house? The home has a state-of-the-art security system installed by Denbe Construction. The abductors must have had inside information about the house and the family's activities.

Why abduct a whole family? Three people are harder to control and hide than a single person. Where have they hidden the family? Where do you hide three people? What is the motive for the kidnapping? There is no immediate ransom demand.

As the hours pass in their small cell, the strain of their captivity reveals a far-from-perfect family unit. The Denbe family begins to disintegrate as each character's darkest secrets are revealed -- Justin's attraction to other women, Libby's addiction to painkillers and the result of Ashlyn's actions after her feeling of being left out of her parents' lives.

"This is the truth: love, safety, family -- it is all touch and go."

Libby's first-person point of view is particularly compelling in the audio format narrated by Elisabeth Rogers. Libby reveals the slow unraveling of the family members. Tessa's and the other characters' narratives are told in the third person. The characters are believable and the plot gripping.

I do recommend reading "Love You More" before reading "Touch and Go." The previous novel helped me to understand references to Tessa's background as a disgraced former state trooper, but "Touch and Go" still works well as a standalone novel.

The novel's well-crafted plot moves at a hectic pace with intricate twists, turns and surprises galore. It becomes clear as the novel progresses that the situation is far more complex than anyone would have guessed at the beginning. "Touch and Go" is a riveting psychological thriller.

Phyllis Seesengood is technical services librarian for the Joplin Public Library.


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