Jake Buckman does not have a great relationship with his teenage son, Ryan. So when Jake picks up Ryan from the movies one night and Ryan asks his dad if he can drive home — even though it’s past the hour his learner’s permit allows — Jake says yes, hoping it will get his son to open up and talk to him more.But this is a story told by thriller writer Lisa Scottoline, so what happens next is not happy male bonding over an Audi, but a terrifying accident that immediately plunges father and son into a morass of secrets, lies, death and scandals. And, of course, things keep getting worse. Keep Quiet is Scottoline’s 22nd novel — all of her previous novels have been bestsellers. She is a machine of a writer, cranking out one to two books a year while continuing to write a weekly humor column with her daughter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. This book shows she is at the top of her form. It’s a roller-coaster ride of plot twists and cliffhangers. Her pacing is impeccable, as she mixes up the action with scenes that get inside the emotional lives of her characters, revealing their pain, insecurities and confusion. As the book progresses, Jake’s life begins to unravel. He goes from one bad decision to the next, but Scottoline keeps deft control over her troubled character. You may not like what Jake is doing, but you still can’t help but like him. Last year, with Don’t Go, Scottoline introduced her first male protagonist, Mike Scanlon, an Army doctor who comes home from active duty to find his wife dead and his life in shambles. In an email interview at that time, Scottoline told me, “After 20 years and 20 novels featuring women as the main characters, I decided to try to write a man, frankly, because I wanted to see if I could,” and went on to say, “The differences between men and women had always been a subtext in my novels, which are generally about crime and family, and in part, I think I had examined that question from the female perspective, but now I was going to try to imagine it from the male’s.”With Keep Quiet, she continues to explore that male point of view, adding in complex questions about father-teenage son relationships and pushing her characters to try to rediscover each other in ways that are not always comfortable. Jake wants his son to admire him, but he also has to reconcile that with the fact that the recession wiped out the accounting firm he worked for and his son has watched him struggle to get financially back on his feet. And Ryan is growing up, making his own questionable decisions and seeing his parents’ relationship more realistically than a little kid can. All of this makes for tensions that ring true.To add an additional element of emotional churn to the story, Jake’s wife, Pam, is a lawyer and a judge, and it’s interesting — and surprising — to see how she responds professionally and personally to the mess Jake and Ryan have gotten themselves into. Before she became an award-winning author, Scottoline was a lawyer, and her knowledge of the law grounds the plot in reality.But as the characters interact, sorting out their emotions, the reader can almost hear the tick-tick-tick of that roller coaster climbing uphill before it shoots the rider off into a fast-moving whoosh of a ride. And that is exactly what Scottoline does, giving readers a wild journey with just enough insight along the way so that when the plot twists happen, they’re not completely unexpected.The book is a fast, fun read, and comes to a pretty quick halt, too. Loose ends are neatly tied — perhaps a bit too neatly — but overall Scottoline leaves the reader sated, satisfied and ready for the author’s next thrilling ride.
by Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, $27.99
* * * *
Audiobook: Macmillan Audio, $34.99; read by actor Ron Livingston.
Meet the author
Scottoline will talk about and sign her new book at 7 p.m. April 15 at the Dallas Barnes & Noble, 7700 W. Northwest Highway, 214-739-1124.