A horrific murder rocks the town of Oak Knoll, Calif., in the chilling sequel to Hoag's Deeper than the Dead), set in 1986. The victim is 28-year-old artist Marissa Fordham, the single mother of Haley, a four-year-old found partially strangled and barely clinging to life next to her mother's stabbed and mutilated body. Det. Tony Mendez and his capable crew investigate the crime, while child advocate Anne Leone and her husband, former FBI special agent Vince Leone, take temporary custody of Haley. Among the several suspects is attorney Steve Morgan, the estranged husband of Sara Morgan, whose daughter, Wendy, found a victim of the accused See-No-Evil killer, Peter Crane, who's about to go on trial. Adding extra tension are Anne's efforts to help disturbed 12-year-old Dennis Farnham and the disappearance of Marissa's best friend, Gina Kemmer. Newcomers will have no trouble getting into this suspense novel rich in pre-DNA detecting methods. (Dec. 28)
In her sequel to Deeper Than the Dead, Hoag returns to the fictional California town of Oak Knoll circa 1986. Former FBI profiler Vince Leone has remained in the area and is asked by protégé Tony Mendez in the sheriff's office to help out when a single mother is murdered and her four-year-old daughter left for dead. The killing of Marissa Fordham was particularly brutal, and the little girl's call to 911 reported only that "my daddy hurt my mommy." The problem is that little Haley's dad is unknown, and she is too traumatized to provide any further information. Though Vince's new wife, Anne, a child psychologist in training, is helping with Haley, the police have both too many suspects and none who exactly fit the bill. As with the first book in this microseries (the publisher's term), the mid-1980s setting means that the cops can't rely on DNA or computers or any of the new-fangled technologies used by 21st-century detectives. This authorial choice serves the novel well as it gives a solid footing to the police procedural aspects of this thriller. Verdict While the plotting is sometimes a little overworked, Hoag's characterizations remain spot on, and her writing is as exciting as ever. For fans of Lisa Gardner and Tess Gerritsen.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI
The "See-No-Evil" serial killer is jailed awaiting trial, and the last thing Sheriff's Detective Tony Mendez needs is another murder victim, especially a beautiful young woman brutally stabbed and slashed.
Marissa Fordham, a rising young artist and the protégé of the wealthy Milo Bordain, is discovered murdered in her isolated cottage. Haley, her 4-year-old daughter, rests badly injured on her mother's bloody corpse. Mendez catches the case, ably assisted by Vince Leone, a retired FBI profiler who helped solve the "See-No-Evil" mystery. Leone has retired and married a local teacher, Anne Navarre, who was almost murdered by the jailed serial killer. Anne is now studying child psychology and working as a court-appointed special advocate in juvenile cases, and she persuades a reluctant Vince to let her care for Haley. That necessary and time-consuming task deflects her from counseling an apparently psychopathic middle-school student who has stabbed a classmate. Mendez and Leone have more than one suspect in Marissa's brutal murder, even though the victim isn't all—or is more than—she seems to be. Hoag (Deeper Than the Dead, 2009, etc.) again stages her mystery in Oak Knoll, a fictional town somewhere near the beautiful landscape surrounding Santa Barbara and Lompoc, Calif., and her gift for description makes the area come alive. The author also discovers a suitable set of suspects ranging from Bordain's Mercedes-dealer son, a mathematical genius and college professor with Asperger's Syndrome and mother issues, and a prosperous and adulterous attorney who may or may not have been linked to the "See-No-Evil" serial killer. The good guys are less dramatic, although Hoag's character sketches are memorable, right down to minor players like the county sheriff, Cal Dixon.
Fans of literate mysteries will appreciate the complex but realistic story, the satisfying resolution and the descriptive writing.
Read an Excerpt
The house stood by itself back off the road in a field of dried golden grass, half hidden by spreading oaks. An amalgam of stylespart Spanish, part ranchthe once-white stucco building was weathered in a way that made it seem a part of the natural surroundings, as if it had grown up out of the earth and belonged there as much as any of the hundred-year-old trees.
The scene was a plein air painting, soft and impressionistic: the golden grass, the dark trees, bruise-purple mountains in the background, and the whisper-blue sky strewn with long, thin, pink-tinted clouds; the small white house with its old tile roof. On the other side of the mountains the sun had begun its descent toward the ocean. Here, the day seemed to have paused to admire its own perfection. Stillness held the landscape enraptured.
Nothing gave away a hint of what lay within the house.
The driveway was a path of dirt and crushed rock with grass and weeds sprouted up the middle like the mane of a wild pony. Falling down fences the color of driftwood created the lane between two overgrown pastures that had once been home to cattle and horses.
A vintage Woody station wagon well past its glory days was parked at a casual angle near an open shed full of rusted farm equipment. An old Radio Flyer red wagon had been abandoned near the front porch with an orange tabby cat sitting in it, waiting for a ride. On the porch two kittens played peekaboo among overgrown pots of parched geraniums and kitchen herbs. One propped herself up on the screen door and peered into the house, then squeaked and leapt and dashed away, tail straight up in the air.
Inside the house nothing moved but flies.
A horrible still life had been staged on the Saltillo tile kitchen floor.
A woman lay dead, her hair spreading out around her head like a dark cloud. Her skin was the color of milk. Her lips had been painted as red as a roseas red as her blood must have been as it drained from the wounds carved into her flesh.
She lay discarded like a life-size broken dollmade up, torn up, and cast aside, her brown eyes cloudy and lifeless.
Beside her lay a smaller dollher childhead resting on her shoulder, face streaked with the last of her mother's life's blood.
The flies buzzed. The wall clock ticked above the sink.
The telephone receiver dangled near the floor, stenciled with small bloody fingerprints. The last words spoken into it were a whisper still hanging in the air: "My daddy hurt my mommy…;"