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Ashes to Ashes (Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska Series #1)

Ashes to Ashes (Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska Series #1)

4.2 120
by Tami Hoag, Melissa Leo (Read by)

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She writes the kind of thrillers that keep readers and critics awake all night.

She grabs you with a story as frightening as your worst fears, as chilling as your unspoken secrets.

She is New York Times bestselling writer Tami Hoag, today's most exciting master of suspense. Ashes to Ashes is her most terrifying novel yet...read


She writes the kind of thrillers that keep readers and critics awake all night.

She grabs you with a story as frightening as your worst fears, as chilling as your unspoken secrets.

She is New York Times bestselling writer Tami Hoag, today's most exciting master of suspense. Ashes to Ashes is her most terrifying novel yet...read on...

Some killers are born.

Some are made.

For him, the question is irrelevant. The taste for murder has always been present, prowling the edge of his consciousness like a hungry wolf. In a wooded Minneapolis park, he performs his profane ceremony. He arranges the body to his satisfaction. He pours the accelerant, anointing the dead. Then he lights the match.

"Ashes to ashes."

The newspapers have dubbed him the Cremator. He has already claimed three lives. And he won't stop there. He has a plan for greatness. Only this time there is a witness. A teenage runaway with a dubious identity and a murky past, Angie DiMarco has seen the face of the killer in the flickering light of the funeral pyre. Now the police have Angie, but Angie isn't talking.

Enter Kate Conlan. She knows all too well the dark side of the human heart. Once an up-and-coming FBI agent, she left the Bureau under a cloud of scandal. Now, instead of catching criminals, she helps their victims and protects witnesses. The job of advocate suits her just fine—until she's assigned to Angie.

Not even Kate can tell if the troubled youth is a reluctant witness, a potential victim, or something more troubling still. Her superiors are interested only in badgering Angie for a lead, because the Cremator'slatest victim may be the daughter of Peter Bondurant—an enigmatic billionaire businessman with power to influence the way the case is handled.

Bondurant pulls strings and gets Special Agent John Quinn brought to the case. The FBI's ace profiler of serial killers, Quinn shares a painful past with Kate and hides a secret that is driving him toward madness. He is a man on a ragged edge, and yet his insatiable need to do justice drives him to catch the Cremator—no matter what the cost to himself.

Amid a frenzy of public hysteria, politics, and media attention, Kate is confronted with the most difficult role of her career—and her life. For she is the one woman who has what it takes to stop the Cremator...and the one woman he wants next.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Five years after the death of her daughter, the breakup of her marriage, and a love affair that cost her her job at the FBI, Kate Conlan has picked up the pieces of her life and established a new career in Minneapolis as a victim's advocate. Her life is stagnant but settled until a serial killer, who has been nicknamed the Cremator, makes himself known. Thus far he has left behind the mutilated and burned bodies of two women, both known prostitutes. But the third victim attracts much more attention when it appears to be the daughter of one of the city's wealthiest and most influential men: Peter Bondurant. The problem is, no one is sure the body is that of Jillian Bondurant, for while her driver's license was left at the site, the fingers on the corpse have been burned away, there are no identifying marks on the body, and the victim's head is nowhere to be found.

Adding to the mystery is Angie DiMarco, a bedraggled, homeless, and skittish young woman who witnessed the gruesome burning of the corpse. Hoping to get a description of the killer, the cops detain Angie. But the young woman is clearly scared out of her wits and offers little help. That's when Kate is assigned to the case.

Despite Kate's best efforts, Angie remains withdrawn, secretive, and uncooperative. Adding to Kate's frustration is the FBI Agent who has been brought in on the case: John Quinn, the man Kate had an affair with five years before. At first Kate considers begging off the case and having someone else work with Angie. But in addition to feeling a sense of responsibility toward the troubled girl,Katealso feels strangely drawn to her.

The investigation of the case progresses no better than Kate's attempts to get Angie to talk. Peter Bondurant is throwing his weight around, yet appears to be holding back key information. Sordid details about Jillian Bondurant's life begin to emerge, but no critical evidence can be found. The people of Minneapolis are in an uproar, demanding the killer be caught. And while the police have a bevy of potential suspects to sift through, none of them quite seem to fit.

The tension mounts when Angie suddenly disappears, the only clue a frighteningly large trail of blood. Kate is devastated and ends up at loggerheads with both her boss and the rest of the investigative team, some of whom blame her for Angie's disappearance. Adding to Kate's turmoil is her growing awareness that five years apart has done little to quell the passion between her and Quinn.

When the Cremator strikes again, leaving a woman's body burned beyond recognition inside a car, Kate fears the victim is Angie. It's not, but Kate's relief is short-lived when the body is identified as one of the other crime victims Kate had been counseling. Terrified that the Cremator chose this particular victim as a personal message, Kate grows even more concerned when a series of unsettling events make her wonder if she is being watched, or even stalked by the killer. Her instincts prove true, and though Kate does her best to protect and prepare herself, nothing can prepare her for the final shock of coming face to face with the Cremator.

Taut, terrifying and twisted, Ashes to Ashes is definitely not for the squeamish. But for readers who enjoy great storytelling, intricate plotting, and true-to-life characters, Ashes to Ashes won't disappoint. Hoag does a superb job of masking her killer, cleverly hiding her clues right out in the open, and rapidly building the tension. By the time the story escalates to its surprising and harrowing climax, readers won't be able to turn the pages fast enough.
— Beth Amos

People Magazine
One of the hottest names in the suspense game....Ashes to Ashes leaves the compeittion in the dust (Page-Turner of the Week).
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hoag (A Thin Dark Line) has a way of sneaking up on the reader in superior thriller tradition, taking her time in revealing monstrous images lurking in the dark corners. The Cremator, a Minneapolis serial killer, has been torturing prostitutes before incinerating them in local parks, but no one pays much attention until it appears that the third victim may be Jillian Bondurant, a billionaire's daughter. Former FBI agent Kate Conlan, now a victim/witness advocate, is enlisted to handle a reluctant teenage witness who claims to have seen the latest torching. Kate's life becomes further complicated when ace FBI profiler John Quinn is called in by Jillian's father. Kate and John share a personal history, he being one of the reasons she left the Bureau five years ago, and they must each contend with their painful past as they work together to catch the diabolical killer who appears to be taunting them at every turn. Hoag uses crisp dialogue effectively to distinguish the many diverse characters, while Kate and John's mirror-image Machiavellian work ethics justify both their mutual attraction and aversion. Devoting equal attention to the mystery of the serial killer's identity and the romantic tension between her engaging protagonists, Hoag does service to both, scripting love scenes worthy of George Clooney and Renee Russo, the Hollywood stars she mentions as look-alikes for her principals. Granting a humanizing dignity to the victims' corpses, she neatly sidesteps the graphic crudeness of some of her competitors, while still providing enough surprise twists and stomach-turning carnage to satisfy any heebie-jeebie enthusiast.
Library Journal
FBI agent Kate Conlan's career may have gone up in smoke, sticking her with a desk job in a backwater town, but now she's tracking a serial killer who burns his victims. Following the author's five New York Times bestsellers.
Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
...Hoag holds the reins...tightly....One caveat: It's not for the squeamish.
Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Hoag continues to exploit the theme of mutilated women (A Thin Dark Line) in a romance thriller about the hunt for a serial killer. Someone in Minneapolis is tying down women, then raping, torturing, and killing them. While they're still alive, the attacker sticks knives into the soles of their feet, then cuts off their nipples and aureoles. After they die, he stabs them in a ritual pattern, slices off their tattoos, and burns their bodies beyond recognition; to relive his moments of triumph, he audiotapes their screams for mercy and death. He's the "Cremator": just another "sadistic sexual serial killer" with low self-esteem and an abused childhood behind him. His first two victims are prostitutes, but when he turns his hand to Jillian Bondurant, the daughter of a billionaire, Minnesota calls in FBI agent John Quinn, world-famous expert on serial killers and related ilk. In the Twin Cities, Quinn is reunited with his ex-lover Kate Conlan, a former FBI expert in violent crime and the only woman he could ever really love. After the death of her daughter and a bitter divorce, Kate has moved to Minnesota and become a victim-and-witness advocate. In that capacity, she's assigned to watch over Angie DiMarco, a runaway teenager who spied the Cremator while she was turning a trick in the park. As lots of tawdry details are dug up about Jillian (incest, etc.), the killer tortures and murders another woman, kills a small dog (in romance, always a sign of irredeemable evil), then begins to plot against Kate herself. Hoag's strong dose of S&M resolves in fire, blood, stabbings, and Kate spread-eagled on a table. Though Hoag grows more and more adept at juggling a complex plot, her sortof violent entertainment isn't for everyone.

From the Publisher
"Without a doubt...Tami Hoag is one of the most intense suspense writers around."—Chicago Tribune

"[Tami Hoag] demonstrates just why she has become one of the hottest names in the suspense game....Bottom line: Leaves competition in the dust."—People

"[A] detail-packed thriller...The Silence of the Lambs comes to mind more than once."—Entertainment Weekly

"Tami Hoag is the queen of the crime story."—New York Post

"You'll want to lock the doors while you're reading."—Star Tribune, Minneapolis

"An up-all-night read."—Detroit News

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date:
Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska Series , #1
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Some killers are born. Some killers are made. And sometimes the origin of desire for homicide is lost in the tangle of roots that make an ugly childhood and a dangerous youth, so that no one may ever know if the urge was inbred or induced.

He lifts the body from the back of the Blazer like a roll of old carpet to be discarded. The soles of his boots scuff against the blacktop of the parking area, then fall nearly silent on the dead grass and hard ground. The night is balmy for November in Minneapolis. A swirling wind tosses fallen leaves. The bare branches of the trees rattle together like bags of bones.

He knows he falls into the last category of killers. He has spent many hours, days, months, years studying his compulsion and its point of origin. He knows what he is, and he embraces that truth. He has never known guilt or remorse. He believes conscience, rules, laws, serve the individual no practical purpose, and only limit human possibilities.

"Man enters into the ethical world through fear and not through love."
--Paul Ricoeur, Symbolism of Evil.

His True Self adheres only to his own code: domination, manipulation, control.

A broken shard of moon glares down on the scene, its light faint beneath the web of limbs. He arranges the body to his satisfaction and traces two intersecting X's over the left upper chest. With a sense of ceremony, he pours the accelerant. Anointing the dead. Symbolism of evil. His True Self embraces the concept of evil as power. Fuel for the internal fire.

"Ashes to ashes."

The sounds are ordered and specific, magnified by his excitement. The scrape of the match against the friction strip,the pop as it bursts with flame, the whoosh of the fire as it comes alive and consumes. As the fire burns, his memory replays the earlier sounds of pain and fear. He recalls the tremor in her voice as she pleaded for her life, the unique pitch and quality of each cry as he tortured her. The exquisite music of life and death.

For one fine moment he allows himself to admire the drama of the tableau. He allows himself to feel the heat of the flames caress his face like tongues of desire. He closes his eyes and listens to the sizzle and hiss, breathes deep the smell of roasting flesh.

Elated, excited, aroused, he takes his erection out of his pants and strokes himself hard. He brings himself nearly to climax, but is careful not to ejaculate. Save it for later, when he can celebrate fully.

His goal is in sight. He has a plan, meticulously thought out, to be executed with perfection. His name will live in infamy with all the great ones--Bundy, Kemper, the Boston Strangler, the Green River Killer. The press here has already given him a name: the Cremator.

It makes him smile. It makes him proud. He lights another match and holds it just in front of him, studying the flame, loving the sinuous, sensuous undulation of it. He brings it closer to his face, opens his mouth, and eats it.

Then he turns and walks away. Already thinking of next time.


The sight burned its impression into the depths of her memory, into the backs of her eyeballs so that she could see it when she blinked against the tears. The body twisting in slow agony against its horrible fate. Orange flame a backdrop for the nightmare image.


She ran, her lungs burning, her legs burning, her eyes burning, her throat burning. In one abstract corner of her mind, she was the corpse. Maybe this was what death was like. Maybe it was her body roasting, and this consciousness was her soul trying to escape the fires of hell. She had been told repeatedly that was where she would end up.

In the near distance she could hear a siren and see the weird flash of blue and red lights against the night. She ran for the street, sobbing, stumbling. Her right knee hit the frozen ground, but she forced her feet to keep moving.

Run run run run run run--

"Freeze! Police!"

The cruiser still rocked at the curb. The door was open. The cop was on the boulevard, gun drawn and pointed straight at her.

"Help me!" The words rasped in her throat.

"Help me!" she gasped, tears blurring her vision.

Her legs buckled beneath the weight of her body and the weight of her fear and the weight of her heart that was pounding like some huge swollen thing in her chest.

The cop was beside her in an instant, holstering his weapon and dropping to his knees to help. Must be a rookie, she thought dimly. She knew fourteen-year-old kids with better street instincts. She could have gotten his weapon. If she'd had a knife, she could have raised herself up and stabbed him.

He pulled her up into a sitting position with a hand on either shoulder. Sirens wailed in the distance.

"What happened? Are you all right?" he demanded. He had a face like an angel.

"I saw him," she said, breathless, shaking, bile pushing up the back of her throat. "I was there. Oh--Jesus. Oh--shit. I saw him!"

"Saw who?"

"The Cremator."

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Without a doubt...Tami Hoag is one of the most intense suspense writers around."—Chicago Tribune

"[Tami Hoag] demonstrates just why she has become one of the hottest names in the suspense game....Bottom line: Leaves competition in the dust."—People

"[A] detail-packed thriller...The Silence of the Lambs comes to mind more than once."—Entertainment Weekly

"Tami Hoag is the queen of the crime story."—New York Post

"You'll want to lock the doors while you're reading."—Star Tribune, Minneapolis

"An up-all-night read."—Detroit News

Meet the Author

Tami Hoag’s novels have appeared regularly on national bestseller lists since the publication of her first book in 1988. She lives in Florida.

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Ashes to Ashes 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 120 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am new to her writings. This was the first book of hers I read. I couldn't put it down. After reading Ashes to Ashes, I looked for more of her books to read, and will continue to do so.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book several years ago and read it from cover to cover. It wasn't until the last ten pages that I fully understood who the killer was. Most books I at least have an inkling as to who the killer is. Not this book. It had me guessing till the very end. The plot was intense and gripping with great character development without any of the cliches.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book rivals the best of Stephen King & Dean Koontz. It was an excellent book that was very suspenseful and sometimes chilling. It will make you look over your shoulder once or twice. It's also nice to have a good female mystery writer for a change.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author grabbed me on the first page and never let go. Gruesome crimes abound, so if you can't stomach violence, skip this one. The characters are compelling, the plot lines are interwoven expertly, and the suspense just keeps coming. There are multiple red herrings to keep you guessing right til the end. Hoag created enough likely suspects that I never could decide on one(or two?). So try to guess if you must, but mostly just hang on for a turbulent ride.
JA_Olem More than 1 year ago
It was great, well written, very good at drawing you in and making you a hermit and reading all day. It keeps you in complete suspense and questioning. The only problem, in my opinion, was who the killer turned out to be. I thought that was kind of....weird. Didn't see it coming until the end. But aside from that it was great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the first mystery/crime book I have ever read, and it was a good one. I would recommend it to those who do not read much mystery/crime books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm an avid reader. I've read a few books by Tami Hoag and have loved them. But this one...I quit on page 400 and screamed UNCLE! Found myself saying out loud 'I don't care who killed these women!' The general plot of this book is good but the main characters were driving me insane. They took too much away from the storyline and I found their 'reminiscing' about what they had and what they could have as far as their relationship, very repetative and nauseating. Tami Hoag is an excelent author but this one just didn't fulfill my expectations of her writing. There are still other books of hers I've not read, and along with any of her future books, I'll give them a try.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is really good book and i recomend it to anyone. you get into the killers head and find out what makes him the way he is. the silence of the lambs came to mind once or twice. tami hoag is becoming one of my favorite authors now that im reading 'dust to dust' which is the sequel. she definately has a way with words and just sucks you right in to 'ashes to ashes'. you wont regret reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It has you on your toes from the moment you start. Chills run up your body on the graphic killings, and the end is more startling then ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the pace of the story and once I got started hated to put it down at night
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really intense, thrilling, and suspenseful. Rest of review is a "spoiler alert". What happened to Thor, Kate's cat during the fire?? For us cat lovers out there that's a big deal. How could author forget him. If I missed it, please let me know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of her books! This one is one of my favorites, and i highly recommend you to read it!! If you like Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardener, and Karen Rose then you will love Tami Hoag! It is a creepy, all out scary, gory, and detailed book. If you cant stand some torture, and being afraid then its not for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the characters. Exciting til the end. If you like detective stories you will like this
Sue5 More than 1 year ago
Great writer.  I'm a follower of this writer. Story grabs you then surprise ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, good character development and suspenseful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeddyThomas More than 1 year ago
Anybody who likes good mystery crime novels will love Ashes To Ashes. Tami Hoag is a master.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book taunted me, I couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of mysteries/murder books. I found this one explained each and every detail over and over again. I actually skipped pages!! Love this author but was greatly disappointed. Am now reading Kil the Messenger and am enjoying it. Can't wait to open my nook to see what happens next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rank: warrior. Pelt: black. Eyes: blood red, with a bloodthirsty look in them. Pers: evil, sinister, mysterious. Other: shes a bounty hunter, so if a cat gave her something in return for a killing or something, she'll do it. She'll do: killings, force<_>mate, torture, ect. Gender: female.