Books ó Alone

By Michelle Saturley

Alone is formulaic but it sucks you in

Cop with a past takes on serial killer in Gardner novel


Alone, by Lisa Gardner, Bantam Books, 2005, 322 pages.

Iím no stranger to the serial-killer-on-the-loose thriller genre. Iíve read Thomas Harris, James Patterson, J.D. Robb and many more of that ilk. Though this type of genre isnít exactly literary fiction, itís an entertaining way to pass the time ó say, during the weekend of a major blizzard.

The secret to fully enjoying this type of mystery thriller is the recognition of a certain formula that these books follow:

(1) Thereís always a maverick cop or detective who is on to the serial killer very early in the story. The cop usually becomes the serial killerís biggest target. (Picture your Jodie Foster, Morgan Freeman and so on.)

(2) The aforementioned maverick cop usually has a deep, dark secret from his past that somehow gets him/her emotionally involved in the case. This deep dark secret can often make it easy for the serial killer to mess with the heroís head.

(3) The serial killer on the loose character is almost always portrayed as a pure evil monster, completely devoid of feelings except hate or revenge. He also takes great pleasure in his work.

If, as a reader, you can identify and accept these three immutable rules of the formula, you can move on to the story itself and get lost in the twists and turns. And if you happen to be reading Alone, a thriller by Lisa Gardner, be assured that there will be an abundance of them.

Alone begins with a tense domestic-violence standoff. A husband has taken his wife and young son hostage by barricading them in their townhouse, in the posh Back Bay area of Boston. Massachusetts State Trooper Bobby Dodge has just finished a long dayís work, but reports to the scene of the standoff. Part of a special tactical team with training as a sniper, Dodge sets up his rifle in the brownstone across the street and watches the scene unfold. The husband pulls a gun on his wife, with their child just inches away. Just as the man looks as though heís about to pull the trigger, Dodge fires, shooting the man dead with one clean bullet to the head.

This is only the beginning of a wild roller coaster ride that takes us into the horrific childhood of the widow/victim, Catherine. When she was 12 years old, Catherine was kidnapped by a pedophile who kept her buried in an underground prison for 28 days, all the while forcing her to perform unspeakable acts. This background information gives us some insight into Catherineís character as an adult, but it also comes into play later in the story. Meanwhile, the dead battererís family, led by a powerful patriarch with skeletons rattling in his own creepy closet, is  trying to prove that the shooting wasnít what it seemed. And thatís about all Iím going to reveal ó since the suspense and shifts in the narrative are the best parts of this book, I donít want to give any crucial story elements away.

What I can comment on is the storytelling itself. While Gardner does adhere to the time-honored serial-killer-on-the-lam formula, it works. The fact that her serial killer takes great pleasure in his work makes him all the more frightening, cliche notwithstanding. Many of the plot points are familiar territory if youíre a fan of the thriller genre. However, what makes this book different is the authorís attention to the little things. Gardner has done enough research on police protocol at domestic-violence scenes and crime scenes to make the entire opening of the book alarmingly real. She also adds enough details about the different areas and archetypical characters of Boston to put the reader right in the middle of the scene ó whether itís a bar in Southie or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Another interesting story element is our flawed hero, State Trooper Bobby Dodge. Heís a good cop, but heís not always a very good human being. His back-story gives us some insight into why he is so drawn to this particular case, and in particular, this particular victim (who may not be as much of a victim as sheíd like Bobby to think).

While Alone isnít for everyone ó particularly those who donít like to read about small children in harmís way ó itís a rapid-fire page-turner for fans of the genre. Be sure to rope off some time for this one. Once you are sucked into the story, itís hard to put down.

óMichelle Saturley

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH