ALONE by Lisa Gardner
ALONE by Lisa Gardner

Writer Essay: The Making of ALONE by Lisa Gardner

Fiction - Thrillers | Bantam Hardcover | January 2005 | $24.00 | 0-553-80253-4

Where do I get my ideas from? It's a question every author has to answer at one point in time (if not once a week). Fortunately, I have husband who is addicted to the History channel, and thanks to a show he watched one night, I found the idea for my latest novel, ALONE. The documentary was on the history of police sniping. It covered a major case out of L.A. where a police sniper shot and killed an "alleged" bank robber who was holding a woman at gunpoint. The sniper detailed his training, the events that occurred that morning, and why he took the shot. He then went on to discuss how that single moment in time destroyed his life.

Police snipers have no legal protection. Unlike military snipers, who are viewed as merely following orders, police sniping is considered an individual act. In the L.A. case, the LAPD immediately launched an internal review, which found that the sniper had exercised proper use of deadly force. Unfortunately, that still didn't protect the officer from being slapped with a wrongful death suit by the "alleged" bank robber's family. The officer spent the next decade being dragged through civil court. As he explained it, he couldn't even call the bank robber a bank robber-since the man hadn't lived to be found guilty, he could never legally be considered a criminal. The bank robber became the victim and the police officer became the killer.

Immediately I knew I had a book idea.

Research is my favorite part of the writing process. To create the character of Bobby Dodge, the hero of ALONE, I interviewed numerous law enforcement snipers. As always, I learned many fascinating things along the way. For example, officers are not compensated for being on a SWAT team. It's considered an honor and a privilege, something officers do for both the challenge and the satisfaction of being the best of the best. The officers train one weekend a month and are on call 24/7. Most of the snipers I interviewed hadn't even had a beer in years—you can't very well load up at the neighbor's barbecue when your beeper could go off at any time.

The real job of a sniper, I learned, was reconnaissance. The observer-sniper's primary role is serving as the eyes of the tactical unit. Have scope, will travel. All snipers train rigorously to hone their powers of observation. Again, not that this necessarily carries over to their personal lives. One guy sheepishly admitted to me that he could describe with specificity every item in a target's house; on the other hand, it had taken him four days to realize his wife had gotten her hair cut.

All of this, of course, became fodder for creating a hero. In ALONE, Bobby Dodge serves on the Massachusetts State Police's tactical team, called STOP. At the opening of the novel, we meet a good guy doing a tough job. He's going through the paces of life—has a girlfriend, has a house, has a career. Then, his beeper goes off.

Bobby is called to the scene of a domestic-barricade: a husband appears to have his wife and child at gunpoint. It's an automatic tactical team call and Bobby quickly sets up position. It's his job to take inventory while his fellow team members scramble in from around the state. Tonight, however, the whole thing goes sour in a matter of minutes. Bobby's barely focused his scope when the husband appears to go bezerk. Jimmy Gagnon points his gun at his wife. Jimmy Gagnon tightens his finger on the trigger. And from fifty yards away, Bobby Dodge blows him away.

Bobby Dodge has taken a life to save a life. At least that's what he thought.

Immediately, the accusations start. Jimmy Gagnon's parents allege their son was only trying to save his child from the real threat that night—the wife, Catherine Gagnon. She's been abusing the child for years. If Jimmy appeared threatening, then Catherine must have goaded him into a rage. She knew the cops were out there, she knew officers had to be watching. Did Bobby really act alone, or did the gorgeous, wealthy widow coerce him into acting as the perfect tool for murder?

Every family has its secrets. The Gagnon family, however, has secrets deadlier than most. By morning's light, Bobby Dodge finds himself in the middle of a political maelstrom, with his job, and soon his very life, on the line. He's a hero. He's a monster. He's a savior. He's a killer. He's a man very much ALONE....