Lisa Gardner

Live to Tell


He knows everything about you—including the first place you’ll hide.

On a warm summer night in one of Boston’s working-class neighborhoods, an unthinkable crime has been committed: Four members of a family have been brutally murdered. The father—and possible suspect—now lies clinging to life in the ICU. Murder-suicide? Or something worse? Veteran police detective D. D. Warren is certain of only one thing: There’s more to this case than meets the eye.

Danielle Burton is a survivor, a dedicated nurse whose passion is to help children at a locked-down pediatric psych ward. But she remains haunted by a family tragedy that shattered her life nearly twenty-five years ago. The dark anniversary is approaching, and when D. D. Warren and her partner show up at the facility, Danielle immediately realizes: It has started again.

A devoted mother, Victoria Oliver has a hard time remembering what normalcy is like. But she will do anything to ensure that her troubled son has some semblance of a childhood. She will love him no matter what. Nurture him. Keep him safe. Protect him. Even when the threat comes from within her own house.

In New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner’s most compelling work of suspense to date, the lives of these three women unfold and connect in unexpected ways, as sins from the past emerge—and stunning secrets reveal just how tightly blood ties can bind. Sometimes the most devastating crimes are the ones closest to home.

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“Boston police detective D. D. Warren returns in another gripping thriller… In addition to telling a compelling story, Gardner also explores an issue that is rarely discussed in fiction: children who are psychotic.  Gardner never sensationalizes her story, and the book ends with a resolution that is creatively and emotionally appropriate.   An excellent novel.” — Booklist, starred review

“Gardner has another hit on her hands” – Kirkus Reviews

“The lives of three women collide in Gardner’s amazingly chilling new thriller…  The devastating, sometimes tragic consequences of childhood mental illness are the backdrop for this electrifying tale of murder and family secrets.”  – Jill M. Smith, RT Book Reviews – 4-1/2 Stars – Top Pick

“Outstanding.” – Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Set for release tomorrow, the book is Gardner’s twelfth novel of suspense—and the fourth to feature Boston Sergeant Detective D.D. Warren. In Live to Tell, Warren is interrupted from a dinner date that seems sure to lead to some much-needed pillow talk and thrust into a waking nightmare: a brutal crime scene in which four members of a family are found dead while the father (who is also a potential suspect) lies clinging to life in the ICU.

The obvious theory? Murder-Suicide. The more sinister option? Something worse.

As Gardner’s readers have come to expect, nothing is quite as it appears to be. One of the author’s greatest strengths is her ability to reveal layers of truth throughout the course of a novel without ever showing her hand, and Live to Tell is yet another example of such mastery. Another well-honed tool in her writer’s arsenal is strong characterization, which allows the book to be populated with memorable personalities, the line between suspect and target admirably blurred.

In addition to having a strong female protagonist in D.D. Warren, Gardner introduces Danielle Burton and Victoria Oliver, a survivor of her own dark past and the latter a conflicted mother of a violent child. Each woman possesses an inner strength dampened only by occasional bouts of vulnerability, but it’s their unique circumstances and motivations that keep them from drifting into sameness. Rather, their differences are complimentary, only serving to enhance their individuality. That the lives of all three would intersect is inevitable. The hows and the whys, however, are not nearly as apparent…

Danielle Burton is a nurse who works at a locked down pediatric psych. ward. She has her own bloodied history, and as the twenty-fifth anniversary of that day approaches, it’s a struggle to maintain her sanity—especially after Detective Warren and her partner arrive at the facility to inquire about a crime that seems all too familiar. Meanwhile, Victoria Oliver is a devoted mother who will stop at nothing to ensure that her troubled eight-year-old son, Evan, leads some semblance of an ordinary childhood—even as she lives in constant fear of the night that he will kill her.

What elevates Live to Tell to a level that surpasses even her most exceptional efforts (including last year’s The Neighbor, which just won Best Hardcover of the Year at ThrillerFest) is two-fold. First, Gardner’s sense of place is flawlessly executed. This is perhaps best illustrated in her depiction of life in the pediatric psych. unit, where the battle to save afflicted children from the darkness is fought each and every day. Second, her empathy for Victoria Oliver’s situation is palpable, and she captures both the moments of fleeting joy and sheer desperation that come with parenting a mentally ill child with clarity. (It should be noted that the story was inspired, in part, by the experiences of a friend of Gardner’s, whose son tried to kill his family.)

Gardner is one of those rare talents who gets better with each offering, and Live to Tell will leave readers with the sense that she is just now reaching the heights of her storytelling powers. The book’s central mystery is both complex and chilling, and fans of procedurals will appreciate her attention to forensic detail while the lay person will find satisfaction in her intricately interwoven plotlines. But more than that, Live to Tell explores a bevy of social issues, serving as a reminder that horrors are just as present in everyday life as they are between the pages of a book… ” – July 12, 2010 Hartford Books Examiner – John Valeri

“Thriller novelist Lisa Gardner laughs a lot and points to an unremarkable childhood in which she was raised in a “normal family” by her accountant parents.
Yet the story lines of her best-selling books are very dark. Kidnappings, murders, torture, sex offenders, child abusers, serial killers “Those are the things we’re afraid of, and they bring with them the questions we want to have answered,” she explained. “That’s the satisfying part of being a suspense author – you can go to the really dark places in order to bring resolution to your readers.“We sit through the newscasts and still don’t know what really happened or why. I can answer those questions and add details.”

At her website, , Gardner explains that her love of suspense novels has earlier roots: “Growing up, I read Stephen King, John Saul and V.C. Andrews. I’ve always loved anything that begins with a dark and stormy night and ends with a dead body.”

The influence shows in Gardner‘s new book, “Live To Tell,” The Bee Book Club’s choice for July. It’s her 12th thriller in two series and two stand-alone novels. Her worldwide sales have reached 20 million.

Earlier this month, Gardner won the Thriller Award for best hardcover novel of the genre (“The Neighbor”) at Thrillerfest in New York City. She bested Harlan Coben and T. Jefferson Parker, among other veterans.

“Live To Tell” (Bantam, $26, 390 pages) is Gardner‘s fourth book to feature the tough-minded D.D. Warren. The Boston police detective’s new case forces her to confront a psychologically twisted scenario involving children with overwhelming mental and emotional problems. Some even plot to murder their parents.

Although Gardner‘s bibliography reflects controversial subjects and topical issues, “Live To Tell” came from a source close to home.

Since the birth of their daughter, now 7, Gardner and her husband have done volunteer work for an agency that serves at-risk and special-needs children.

“It’s one of the most deeply fulfilling parts of our lives,” she said.

Gardner worked closely on the board with a woman who “suddenly disappeared for six months. Then she showed up at a board meeting and told us about her son, who was 7 and had been on anti-psychotic medication since age 5.”

The story was harrowing. Returning home from a night out, the woman and her husband were told by the babysitter that their son had threatened to kill her. They placed the boy in a child-care lockdown unit for several weeks. Not long after the boy returned home, he threatened to kill his father with a knife.

“What resonated with me was how much they still loved their son,” Gardnersaid.

Before she became a New York Times best-selling author, Gardner wrote romantic-suspense novels under the pseudonym Alicia Scott. She sold her first one, “Walking After Midnight,” to Silhouette Intimate Moments when she was just 20 and a junior in college.

Later, after graduation and while working as a management consultant, she wrote at night and published 12 more. In a segue that seemed quite natural,Gardner moved into pure thriller with “The Perfect Husband” in 1997. The main character was modeled after serial killer Ted Bundy.

Eleven thrillers later, how does Gardner regard her romance novels now?

“I still love them,” she said. “I started in romance because I felt I didn’t have the credentials to be a serious suspense author. But I’m a research junkie, and the more I learned about (the players in the criminal justice landscape), the more I really liked that stuff. By moving to suspense, I finally got the freedom to build in the research and bring those stories to life. It’s a happy marriage.”

If Gardner has a hobby, it’s reading about true crime and forensic science.

“Other people look at Facebook while I’m at the True Crime Library (www.truecrime,” Gardner said. “Just the other day, I was reading about a family that produced two serial killers who operated independently of each other. I find that stuff fascinating.”

Gardner just handed over the manuscript for her next book, still untitled, scheduled to appear in February. “It’s a continuation of the D.D. Warren series, but it’s really about mother-daughter bonding,” she said.

Kate Miciak, vice president and editorial director of Ballantine-Bantam-Dell publishing house in New York, has edited 10 of Gardner‘s books.

“Lisa is her own best editor,” Miciak said. “She starts with an idea, and six to seven months later I get a manuscript that is suspenseful, surprising and organized. My role usually is simply to say, ‘Can you be more this or that?’ or ‘I didn’t understand this moment.’ I know it’s a cliché, but this is an author who gets better with every book.”” – Sacramento Bee – Allen Pierleoni


“When Danielle Burton was 9 years old, she woke up in her dark bedroom and heard a scream, “pounding footsteps, the thud of a body falling down the stairs.”
In Lisa Gardner’s latest thriller, “Live to Tell,” Danielle’s mother, sister and brother died that long-ago night –but her father opened her door and crooned to her, tapped his forehead and pulled the trigger, leaving her alive but drowning in survivor’s guilt.

Now, 25 years later almost to the day, she still wonders why he spared her. She’s gone to college and become a pediatric psych nurse, working in a lockdown ward in Cambridge for very troubled children.

Then a family is found murdered in a fashion disturbingly familiar to her own. This time, however, it’s the father who has survived, barely, a gunshot wound to the forehead.

Sergeant Detective D.D. Warren, a 12-year veteran of the Boston PD, catches the case –and, all too soon, another one just like it.

In three concurrent stories, the lives of D.D., Danielle and Victoria Oliver, the mother of far-from-typical 8-year-old Evan, wind closer and closer together.

In “Live to Tell,” best-selling author Gardner spins her gripping tale around a heartbreaking group: children who are capable of murder. Victoria’s son and the psychotic children in Danielle’s ward are young and innocent in some ways, capable of terrifying actions in others. The options to cope with these kids are heartbreakingly few.

Victoria has torn apart her family in her attempt to keep Evan at home, to try to have him safe and loved while dealing with the episodes that she knows could one day kill her. In the institutional setting, Danielle tries to find ways to reach the tortured children in her charge. Neither world is a pretty one, and the odds are against these broken children.

This is the fourth D.D. Warren book and, true to form for Gardner‘s dozen suspense novels, it’s a gut-wrenching page-turner.

The characters of Victoria, Evan and Danielle’s young charges will linger with you, leaving you thinking about the rough hand some children are dealt.” – Oregonian – Peggy McMullen

“Thirty years ago, Thomas Harris masterful Red Dragon ushered in the age of the post-modern horror story, in which monsters were no longer invading our world, they were woven into the fabric of it. Lisa Gardner s most recent titles have moved that motif into the heart of suburbia, and her latest, the mesmerizing Live to Tell (Bantam, 387 pages, $26) reads like a taut twist on the American dream turned nightmare.

We got five bodies, right? queries her recurring hero, Det. D.D. Warren, on the scene of the brutal murder of an entire family. Five bodies for five family members. Then why is the [dining room] table set for six?

Against that chilling backdrop, Warren begins an investigation that will involve multiple, interconnected sub-plots featuring both villains and victims linked by the intrusion of devastating violence into everyday life. In Gardner s world, even children are cast as victims and victimizers, her inexorable point that no one can escape the monsters no matter how safe the underside of that bed may seem. Harlan Coben has been following this same path for several books now, too. But in Live to Tell, Gardner blazes her own terrifying trail that brands her a master of the sub-genre she helped create.” – Providence Journal Bulletin – Jon Land.

The reasoning why violence occurs can be directly related to what one observes as they mature. For others, violence may be instinctual or dispositional. In “Live to Tell,” Lisa Gardner, author of the D.D. Warren series, explores that exact subject, only to shock and awe readers with every riveting page.

Readers are entranced by a storyline that travels among three women —Boston detective and protagonist D.D. Warren, Victoria Oliver and Danielle Burton.

There are plenty of murder-mysteries that readers will love or hate based on plots, characterization and development. However, in the case of “Live to Tell,”Gardner creates a plot focused on the lives of child psychopaths and those affected by the outcomes of their behavior.

Gardner does not shy away from her descriptions of how adult and grotesque these children can be, and when readers come to find that some of these children come from good, wholesome families, readers become more perturbed by the subject matter.

On a blind date, Warren is interrupted. Before being presented with the news,Warren comes to the realization that her personal life will always be secondary to her profession. Warren is advised of a family slaughter that is committed by the father who was undergoing financial woes. The father barely survives, and when another family murder-suicide plot occurs, Warren begins to suspect foul play.

Meanwhile, readers come to know Danielle, who cannot help but remember her own traumatic experience from childhood. She was the sole survivor after her father murdered each of her family members before turning the gun on himself. Now, Danielle provides for troubled youth as a psychiatric nurse in a children’s ward.

Similarly, there is a dark undertone in Victoria’s story. As a young divorcee and single mother, Victoria is at wits end with her young son Evan. But Evan is not like most children. Evan shares something all too familiar with two of the children from the murdered families — he, like them, is capable of violent and erratic behavior.

One might believe that children with such conduct are often the outcome of brutality in their own homes, however, Gardner weaves an interesting two-story plot through the eyes Warren which demonstrates how that line is blurred.

Warren is a necessary voice in this book. However, her characterization is not well progressed as you might observe with Victoria or Danielle. But, only through the eyes of Warren can readers see what is happening in an unbiased way as she presents the evidence scene by scene, no matter how disturbing.

Gardner does a marvelous job at building the story like a home. The readers enter, working their way through the chapters, only to find that those chapters, like a home, open new doors with passages that lead elsewhere. Even though readers may feel they have it all figured out, Gardner is full of surprises. – The Weekender, NE Pennsylvania – Kacy Muir

Boston detective DD Warren is a hardened professional, but even she is shattered when a series of multiple murders are committed on her patch.

Someone is killing entire families and staging the murder scenes to make it appear as if each father killed his family before killing himself. When her investigations bring her to a children’s special care hospital unit where one of the nurses, Danielle, is the sole survivor of a similar event some years before, DD realises there’s at twisted killer with an unfulfilled agenda. An utterly gripping if profoundly uncomfortable story that could cause sleepless nights. – Irish Independent

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Discussion Questions/FAQs

LIVE TO TELL is a novel that opens up many questions.  Below are some of the questions that Book Clubs can use for discussing the novel.

1.  Victoria goes to great lengths to help her son Evan—even at the expense of her marriage and her relationship with her daughter. Would you have made the same decisions? How would you have prioritized the care of Evan and Chelsea? How far would you go to help your own child?

2.  Put yourself in Victoria’s shoes. If you had a child like Evan, do you think you would seek help, or choose Victoria’s more “go it alone” approach? Do you know where in your community you could go for help with a child like Evan?

3.  What was your initial reaction to the character Lightfoot? Do you believe in “healers?” Under what types of circumstances would you be willing to seek the aid of a spiritual healer?

4.  When it comes to what she calls the “woo-woo” world inhabited by Lightfoot, DD is the ultimate skeptic whose first inclination is to dismiss him as “a televangelist for the alternative-medicine set.” Why do you suppose she reacts this way? How closely did you relate to her reaction?

5.  Discuss incidents in your life that may have led you to believe that there is a sixth sense. Have you come into contact with people who you feel give off energies, good or bad? Do you believe in the concept espoused by Lightfoot that some people are “old souls?”

6.  Danielle struggles with the tragic events of her childhood. How do you suppose you would cope with living through what she did? Would you consider yourself blessed or cursed? Discuss the concept of “survivor’s guilt” and the role it has played in your own life.

7.  Discuss Danielle’s most complicated relationship with Sheriff Wayne. Why do you think she felt the need to seduce him as an adult? Did you sympathize with his decision to succumb to her advances?

8.  Greg finds himself in an ethical quandary at work for taking on side jobs babysitting for troubled kids. What did you think of Greg’s predicament? Would you have done what he did? Why or why not?

9.  Discuss Danielle and Greg’s friendship. Why did he rebuff her sexual advances at first? How would you have reacted in a similar situation? Do you think Danielle is capable of a deeply loving relationship? Why or why not?

10.  Karen is forced to straddle the world of caretaker for the troubled kids on the ward and boss to the complex people she has on her staff. How good is she at this balancing act? Have you ever had a boss like Karen? How do you think Karen handled the added stress of having a nearly constant police presence on the ward?

11.  At the end of the novel, in what ways does Danielle finally face her emotions surrounding the loss of her family? What gives you hope that Danielle will heal?

12.  Discuss Andrew (Lightfoot)’s fixation on Danielle. In his mind, what is he attempting to avenge?

13.  Why do you think DD is so preoccupied with food? Do you think Alex and DD are going to become an item?

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True Inspiration

LIVE TO TELL was inspired by a real life story of a friend whose life changed one night in ways she could never imagine.  Lisa’s friend Laurie Ferris wrote a heartfelt article that was published in Marie Claire.  CLICK HERE to read her amazing journey.  – Caution: Adult language

Laurie recently shared her family’s journey with OPRAH.  CLICK HERE to see the remarkable confidence of a Mom and her loving son, Zach.  Laurie is also sharing her story on her BLOG for those looking for more information.

Play List:  Live to Tell

Like a lot of novelists out there, I’m constantly on the look out for fresh sources of inspiration.  I’ll be the first to confess that M&Ms worked wonders for years.  Sadly, M&Ms and middle age don’t mix so well, so I had to give them up.  Now, I rely heavily on my iPod, an extremely low calorie way of wasting lots of time that I could otherwise spend creating a novel.  But I swear, the right play list can make all the difference!

Live to Tell had me putting together a wildly variant soundtrack, drawing heavily from alternative music and even some hip hop.  The best notes, however, came from my daughter’s children’s music collection, including her favorite song Colors by Kira Willey, and an absolutely gorgeous rendition of U2’s Love Rescue Me performed by the Omagh Community Youth Choir.  For me, those two songs summed up the children at the locked down pediatric psych ward.  Here are kids struggling to handle the full spectrum of daily emotions, while being united in their universal need for love.

Heartless became pediatric psych nurse Danielle’s anthem.  Not because she is, but because she wishes she could be.  Same with Poker Face—for most of the novel, I didn’t know what Danielle was hiding, but guessed it was something terrible.  Imagine my shock when I finally figured it out!  I think Boston homicide detective D.D. Warren truly does believe People Ain’t No Good, but fortunately, she meets Alex Wilson, a fellow investigator who helps bring her to life.  As for exhausted mom Victoria, Fireflies captures her longing for the childhood dreams that never came true.  Same with When You Were Young.  Of course, her son Evan is Beautiful, which is the song I always came back to, and I’m not even an Eminem fan.  But I loved his message for kids—be true to who you are.

So there you have it.  The music that inspired Live to Tell.  For those of you looking for low calorie ways to compliment your reading experience, hope you enjoy!

Play List Live to Tell:

  1. Heartless—Kanye West
  2. Violet Hill—Coldplay
  3. People Ain’t No Good—Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  4. Poker Face—Lady GaGa
  5. Colors—Kira Willey
  6. I Don’t Wanna Be In Love—Good Charlotte
  7. Shattered (Turn the Car Around)—O.A.R.
  8. When You Were Young—The Killers
  9. Love Rescue Me—The Omagh Community Youth Choir
  10. Fireflies—Faith Hill
  11. Bring Me to Life—Evanescence
  12. Paralyzer—Finger Eleven
  13. Numb—Linkin Park
  14. Beautiful—Eminem

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Bantam Dell
Hardcover July 13, 2010
Paperback December 28, 2010
Cover Art © 2010 Scott Biel

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