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Despite Kate's best efforts, Angie remains withdrawn, secretive, and uncooperative.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.