Sunday, December 18, 2016

Secrets to the Grave

Secrets to the Grave
by Tami Hoag
Recommended Ages: 15+

In this sequel to Deeper Than the Dead, newlyweds Vince Leone, a pioneering FBI profiler turned police consultant, and Anne Navarre, a fifth-grade teacher turned child psychologist and children's court-appointed advocate, get caught up in another gruesome murder mystery in the outwardly nice, town-gown community of Oak Knoll, Calif., circa 1985. The use of DNA evidence to solve crimes is only a gleam in sheriff's detective Tony Mendez's eye. The ability to search criminal justice computer databases is still years, and thousands of dollars worth of equipment, away. But before the case against the suspect in the town's previous serial killer case even goes to trial, the three protagonists and their fellow detectives find themselves again confronted with a vicious crime whose key witness is a psychologically damaged child.

Four-year-old Haley was found strangled, but barely alive, next to her mother, a vivacious artist named Marissa. Or is it Melissa? Inquires into the victim's past keep turning up more questions. And, typically, the person who knows her best goes missing just when the need to know what she knows becomes crucial. Most perplexing of all, the artist's murder fits the profile of a crime of passion, but the arrival of mutilated body parts mailed to her patron suggests the work of a psychopath. Which is it? That question will decide whether Vince and Tony should be looking at the autistic savant who teaches math at the local college or one of the men in Marissa/Melissa's life who may have been a blackmail target. Meantime, while Anne tries to protect little Haley from further trauma until she remembers what happened to her mother, she becomes a target of not one, but two disturbed killers.

For the most part, this is an absorbing, thought-provoking crime thriller, with a touch of nostalgia for an earlier era of crime detection, enhanced with well-realized characters and a keep-you-guessing mystery. For the most part. There was a point, unfortunately a very crucial point in the plot of the book, when I suddenly didn't buy the motivations of the characters in the scene. In the context of what had just happened in the very few preceding pages, I was thunderstruck by the preposterousness of the book's climax, in proportion with the high quality of everything up to that point. Try as I may, I still can't think of an explanation for a key decision Anne made in this scene that gels with what I know about her character, except perhaps that the author couldn't think of any other way to write her way out of the book. It isn't the solution to the mystery that threw me; I was totally on board with that - in fact, Hoag did a good job of foreshadowing it. It was more a matter of yelling at the heroine, "Don't go there! You're in danger!" when you know she isn't that dumb.

So, after reading two Tami Hoag thrillers, the score stands at 1 win, 1 loss. But since my judgment against this book is really based on one scene that ruined it for me, I'm open to giving the "Oak Knoll" trilogy a third try, if and when I see Down the Darkest Road for sale.

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