‘Don’t Go’: another writer moves out of the comfort zone

It’s always exciting to see novelists refuse to conform to stereotypical expectations.

In his new book “All You Could Ask For,” sports radio host Mike Greenberg proves himself to be completely capable of writing from the points of view of three different women. Andrew Gross, too, has just published a thriller “No Way Back” centered on a totally believable female protagonist.

Today, Lisa Scottoline joins this growing popular fiction club with “Don’t Go” (St. Martin’s Press), a novel which, quite convincingly, follows the struggles of Mike Scanlon, a doctor serving in Afghanistan, who must reconnect with his family back home in Pennsylvania after his wife dies in what appears to be a kitchen accident.

20 years ago, Scottoline carved out a niche for herself with mysteries about smart and funny female Philadelphia attorneys much like herself before she turned to writing. Five books ago, the author started to shake things up by exploring other types of women in stories that stretched the boundaries of the thriller and mystery genres.

“Don’t Go” marks the biggest step forward yet by this great storyteller — a novel about war, and the toll it takes on decent men. If you handed me this book without any author’s name on it, I wouldn’t have guessed that it was written by the woman who gave us “The Vendetta Defense” and “Mistaken Identity” (let alone such charming newspaper column collections as the recent “Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim”).

Too often the men in books written by women fall into one of two equally unrealistic camps — dreamy fantasy men who are as sensitive as any woman, or sexist brutes who seem to live to make a heroine’s life hell.

Mike Scanlon is a good man but is all too real in his weaknesses — especially a tendency to let anger take control of his emotions. Scottoline puts Mike through the horrors of war and then makes him face challenges at home that are just as tough (when his ability to be a single parent is called into question by almost everyone around him — including the reader).

“Don’t Go” is about the role of fathers in their children’s lives, and it digs deep into the question of whether or not a father is as important in a young child’s life as a mother. Centuries of sex stereotyping tell us that women are programmed to be better parents than men, but Scottoline makes us re-examine all of our prejudices.

Yes, there is a mystery neatly tucked into the second half of “Don’t Go,” but it remains secondary to the extraordinary personal dilemmas of Mike Scanlon. It’s a risky move by Scottoline that I hope will pay big dividends in novels yet to come.

Joe Meyers