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Dust to Dust (Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska Series #2)

Dust to Dust (Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska Series #2)

4.5 85
by Tami Hoag

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Sorry. The single word was written on a mirror. In front of it hung the Minneapolis Internal Affairs cop. Was it suicide? Or a kinky act turned tragic?

Either way, it wasn't murder. At least not according to the powers that be. But veteran homicide detective Sam Kovac and his wisecracking, ambitious partner Nikki Liska think differently. Together they begin to dig


Sorry. The single word was written on a mirror. In front of it hung the Minneapolis Internal Affairs cop. Was it suicide? Or a kinky act turned tragic?

Either way, it wasn't murder. At least not according to the powers that be. But veteran homicide detective Sam Kovac and his wisecracking, ambitious partner Nikki Liska think differently. Together they begin to dig at the too-neat edges of the young cop's death, uncovering one motive and one suspect after another. The shadows of suspicion fall not only on the city's elite, but into the very heart of the police department.

Someone wants the case closed-quickly and forever. But neither Kovac nor Liska will give up. Now both their careers and their lives are on the line. From a murder case two months old to another case closed for twenty years, Kovac and Liska must unearth a connection the killer wants dead and buried. A killer who will stop at absolutely nothing to keep a dark and shattering secret . . .

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble.com
Our Review
Good Cops, Bad Cops
Bestselling author Tami Hoag brings us an intense blend of character study and pure, page-turning suspense in her tenth book, Dust to Dust. Here, Hoag returns to the setting of her previous novel, Ashes to Ashes, and brings all her skills for creating compelling plots to the fore, fusing them into a fast-paced thriller that will both fascinate and horrify readers. Dust to Dust manages to transcend the mystery, police procedural, and serial killer genres, taking the best from those fields and surpassing them.

When young, gay Internal Affairs officer Andy Fallon is found hanged with the single word "Sorry" scrawled across a mirror, Minneapolis detective Sam Kovac and his partner, Nikki Liska, are assigned to investigate the high-profile incident. However, they soon learn that the brass wants the case closed immediately and tagged as a suicide. Of course, this does nothing but fire up the duo's suspicions, and no matter who they have to go against, even inside their own department, they intend to hunt down the truth.

Kovac and Liska soon learn that Fallon was not only about to come out of the closet but was also investigating the murder of another gay police officer. Kovac and Liska receive threats to lay off the case, which only fuels their resolution further. To complicate matters even more, Andy's father, legendary cop Iron Mike Fallon, is also found dead; official cause of death: suicide. Even though Iron Mike wound up living his last years as a drunk and a cripple, Kovac idolized the man and knows that Mike never would've taken his own life. Now Kovac's out to bulldoze his way through the blue wall of silence and take down whoever he has to in order to even the score.

Known mostly for her romantic novels, Hoag displays her complete understanding of police procedural plotlines; the story is turned on its end several times as the detectives weave through a case involving several of their own. It's to Hoag's credit that she allows her tale to unfold slowly, introducing us to all the main characters, and giving us time to learn something about them and their private circumstances. Readers enter the lives of all involved, seeing how they interact as the complexities of the plot coil together. Hoag's prose is sleek and fluid, generating high amounts of tension as Kovac and Liska face one frustrating barrier after another. The exposition is kept to a minimum as we're drawn into the entwined history of our protagonists and villains.

Dust to Dust is a provocative and commanding novel; an impressive mix of action, psychological suspense, and investigative details keeps the narrative moving along briskly. The characters are so fully fleshed that we come to care for them in all their crisis situations and heartache. Writing with great emotional vividness, Hoag carries the reader along through poignancy, terror, and fortitude. We learn what it means to be a clean cop and what it means to be a so-called dirty one, the two sides of a snarled fraternal order that society can't do without. Dust to Dust is a significant novel that doesn't shy from the ugliness of personal and cultural corruption, with the precise amount of audacity that breaks the mold and creates a fresh style of penetrating storytelling.

--Tom Piccirilli

Susan Haas
Dust to Dust is a true turn-of-the-century tale. Gay-bashing and true crime television. Powerful women and political correctness. References to Minnesota's wrestler turned-governor, cracks about Dateline and South Park, designer coffee, Rohypnol and drag queens. In the end, it comes down to whether Fallon was killed despite the fact that his father was a hero, or because of it. The story is compelling an expertly told. Plot lines smoker and ignite as the suspense builds.

And at the end, Hoag's rapid-fire scene switches tease you with bits of the answer at one end before flashing to the other end and different resolutions. The result leaves Kovac, Liska and the reader scorched.
USA Today

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though she began as a romance writer, Hoag (A Thin Dark Line; Guilty As Sin; etc.) has found commercial success in several crime subgenres. Here she tries her hand at the police procedural, and though her story and characters are mostly the stock-in-trade of cop-house fiction, Hoag's verve lets her pull something fresh from the musty old squad room. The nude body of Andy Fallon, a gay Internal Affairs officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, is found hanging from a beam in his bedroom. It looks like a simple suicide, but detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska have doubts, fueled in part by the desire of police brass to forget about the death as quickly as possible. Fallon is the son of department hero Iron Mike Fallon, a paraplegic since his shoot-out with a cop killer 20 years ago. On the day of his son's funeral, Iron Mike kills himself; at least that's how it looks. But as Kovac and Liska begin to realize, it's likely that someone killed the Fallon men--someone willing to eliminate anyone else brave enough to pursue the case. As the tough-talking detectives approach the killer, Hoag lays out a juicy assortment of suspects and subplots. There's Andy Fallon's closeted longtime lover; his seedy brother; a sexy disturbed teen; the Hennepin County prosecutors' office; a cadre of gay-bashing cops; the sultry, haunted female head of Internal Affairs; and a publicity-hungry police captain with his own TV show. Hoag does a fine job of hiding the keys until just the right moment, when all the mysteries come neatly together. The weary Kovac and the ball-busting Liska are all-too-familiar types, yet Hoag renders them so crisply they're not only tolerable but engaging. Both detectives had secondary roles in Hoag's 1999 Ashes to Ashes; they play well on center stage. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Andy Fallon, a gay Minneapolis police officer, hangs dead in his bedroom. A week later Iron Mike Fallon, a former cop and Andy's father, shoots himself with his service revolver. Detectives Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac are not happy with the suspicious circumstances and the too-swift closing of both cases. They continue to nose around, causing unexpected people to react to their search with panic, threats, and attempted murder. What is the secret behind these deaths, and how are all the people connected? Hoag's story is well told; revelations come slowly and tantalizingly, and the characters are well drawn. Toward the end of the tale, explanation and detail are ignored to some extent in favor of suspense and action, but this does not detract from the overall quality of the book. Nick Sullivan reads with versatility and feeling. Recommended for all collections. Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Pam Lambert
With the same sleight of hand displayed in last year's Ashes to Ashes, Hoag sets her sharply drawn characters on a harrowing journey...her wintry tale of crime and punishment packs a powerful punch...killer suspense.
People Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
A gay cop is found hanged. Was it suicide, murder, or kinky sex gone wrong? Street-smart Minneapolis police detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska, back on the beat after Ashes to Ashes (1999), learn a lot about autoerotic asphyxiation while trying to crack the case. Sam and Nikki remain tough but likable protagonists as they investigate a long list of possible suspects: the victim's alcoholic father, a partially paralyzed cop; a jealous older brother with a taste for violence; a mysterious blond socialite of amazing strength; a hero cop turned crime-show host; and so on. But the detectives also view a home video unwittingly left to posterity by a hapless devotee of self-stimulation through suffocation that suggests the possibility of accidental death. (The author points out, somewhat in the style of a public-service announcement, that many teenage suicides by hanging may well be experimentation of this kind gone tragically wrong.) Unlike the sadistic sexual practices on display in Ashes to Ashes, this particular perversion is more pathetic than titillating, although Hoag tries hard to crank up the suspense. Energetic, down-to-earth prose and realistically gritty dialogue help push the workmanlike plot to its complex conclusion, but a notepad and pencil may come in handy to remember who shot whom, when, and why. Unfortunately, the author has chosen to write about a milieu with which she is clearly unfamiliar: urban gay life (here, exclusively male). Not wanting to offend or get too far into the seamier side of gay culture, Hoag settles for bland political correctness and a balanced ratio of 50 percent good gay guys to 50 percent bad gay guys. In dramatic terms, they cancel eachotherout, and none of them is particularly believable. For all the double-crosses, dire threats, and crashing around with guns, the story just isn't thrilling or chilling. But it does move—and fast. Clear directions, but don't try the rope trick at home.

From the Publisher
“Without a doubt, 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
“Tami Hoag is the queen of the crime story.”—New York Post

Product Details

Bantam Books
Publication date:
Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska Series , #2
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.31(d)

Read an Excerpt

“Founded in 1929 and headquartered in San Francisco, Simpson and Gates is the largest full-service law firm based west of the Mississippi. With over nine hundred attorneys in eighteen offices on four continents, Simpson and Gates is recognized as an international leader in the legal profession.”
— Simpson and Gates attorney recruiting brochure.

“For three hundred and fifty dollars an hour, I'd bite the heads off live chickens.”
— J. Robert Holmes Jr., chairman, Simpson and Gates corporate department.

Welcoming remarks to new attorneys.

For the last twenty years or so, being a partner in a big corporate law firm has been like having a license to print money. At my firm, Simpson and Gates, we've had a license to print a lot of money.

At six-fifteen in the evening of Tuesday, December 30, the printing press is running at full speed forty-eight floors above California Street in downtown San Francisco in what our executive committee modestly likes to call our world headquarters. Our 320 attorneys are housed in opulent offices on eight floors at the top of the Bank of America Building, a fifty-two-story bronze edifice that takes up almost an entire city block and is the tallest and ugliest testimonial to unimaginative architecture in the city skyline.

Our two-story rosewood-paneled reception area is about the size of a basketball court. A reception desk that is longer than a city bus sits at the south end of the forty-eighth floor, and I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Sausalito through the glass-enclosed conference room on the north wall. The gray carpet, overstuffed leather chairs andantique coffee tables create the ambiance of a classic men's club, which is entirely appropriate since most of our attorneys and clients are white, male and Republican.

Even in the evening of the customarily quiet week between Christmas and New Year's, our reception area is buzzing with a higher level of activity than most businesses see in the middle of the day. Then again, most businesses aren't the largest and most profitable law firm on the West Coast.

Tomorrow is my last day with the firm and I am trying to shove my way through three hundred attorneys, clients, politicians and other hangers-on who have gathered for one of our insufferable cocktail parties. I hate this stuff. I guess it's appropriate I have to walk the gauntlet one last time.

In the spirit of the holiday season, everybody is dressed in festive dark gray business suits, starched monogrammed white shirts and red power ties. A string quartet plays classical music in front of the blinking lights of our tired-looking twenty-foot Christmas tree. The suits have gathered to drink chardonnay, eat hors d'oeuvres and pay tribute to my soon-to-be ex-partner, Prentice Marshall Gates III, the son of our late founding partner Prentice Marshall Gates II. Prentice III, one of many lawyers in our firm with roman numerals behind his name, is known as Skipper. He is also sailing out of the firm tomorrow. The circumstances of our respective departures are, shall I say, somewhat different.

After my five years as an underproductive partner in our white-collar criminal defense department, our executive committee asked me to leave. I was, in short, fired. Although the request was polite, I was told that if I didn't leave voluntarily, they would invoke Article Seven of our partnership agreement, which states, and I quote, that “a Partner of the Firm may be terminated by the Firm upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds (2/3) of the Partners of the Firm, at a duly called and held meeting of the Partners of the Firm.” In the last three years, fourteen of my partners have been Article Sevened. I have graciously agreed to resign. On Monday, I'll open the law offices of Michael J. Daley, criminal defense attorney, in a subleased office in a walk-up building in the not-so-trendy part of San Francisco's South of Market area. Welcome to the modern practice of law.

Skipper's story is a little different. After thirty years as an underproductive partner in our real estate department, he spent three million dollars of the money he inherited from his father to win a mean-spirited race for district attorney of San Francisco, even though he hasn't set foot in a courtroom in over twenty years. My partners are thrilled. They have never complained about his arrogance, sloppy work and condescending attitude. Hell, the same could be said about most of my partners. What they can't live with is his four-hundred-thousand-dollar draw. He has been living off his father's reputation for years. That's why all the power partners are here. They want to give him a big send-off. More importantly, they want to be sure he doesn't change his mind.

The temperature is about ninety degrees and it smells more like a locker room than a law firm. I nod to the mayor, shake hands with two of my former colleagues from the San Francisco Public Defender's Office and carefully avoid eye contact with Skipper, who is working the room. I overhear him say the DA's office is his first step toward becoming attorney general and, ultimately, governor.

In your dreams, Skipper.

I'm trying to get to our reception desk to pick up a settlement agreement. Ordinarily, such a document would be brought to me by one of our many in-house messengers. Tonight, I'm on my own because the kids who work in our mailroom aren't allowed to come to the front desk when the VIPs are around. I sample skewered shrimp provided by a tuxedoed waiter and elbow my way to the desk, where four evening-shift receptionists operate telephone consoles that have more buttons than a 747. I lean over the polished counter and politely ask Cindi Harris if she has an envelope for me.

“Let me look, Mr. Daley,” she replies. She's a twenty-two-year-old part-time art student from Modesto with long black hair, a prim nose and a radiant smile. She has confided to me that she would like to become an artist, a stock-car driver or the wife of a rich attorney. I have it on good authority that a couple of my partners have already taken her out for a test drive.

A few years ago, our executive committee hired a consultant to spruce up our image. It's hard to believe, but many people seem to perceive our firm as stuffy. For a hundred thousand dollars, our consultant expressed concern that our middle-aged receptionists did not look “perky” enough to convey the appropriate image of a law firm of our stature. In addition, he was mortified that we had two receptionists who were members of the male gender.

At a meeting that everyone adamantly denies ever took place, our executive committee concluded that our clients – the white, middle-aged men who run the banks, insurance companies, defense contractors and conglomerates that we represent – would be more comfortable if our receptionists were younger, female, attractive and, above all, perkier. As a result, our middle-aged female and male receptionists were reassigned to less-visible duties. We hired Cindi because she fit the profile recommended by our consultant. Although she's incapable of taking a phone message, she looks like a model for Victoria's Secret. S&G isn't known as a hotbed of progressive thinking.

Don't get me wrong. As a divorced forty-five-year-old, I have nothing against attractive young women. I do have a problem when a firm adopts a policy of reassigning older women and men to less-visible positions just because they aren't attractive enough. For one thing, it's illegal. For another thing, it's wrong. That's another reason I got fired. Getting a reputation as the “house liberal” at S&G isn't great for your career.

Cindi's search turns up empty. “I'm sorry, Mr. Daley,” she says, batting her eyes. She flashes an uncomfortable smile and looks like she's afraid I may yell at her. While such wariness is generally advisable at S&G, it shows she doesn't know me very well. Jimmy Carter was in the White House the last time I yelled at anybody. “Let me look again,” she says.

I spy a manila envelope with my name on it sitting in front of her. “I think that may be it.”

Big smile. “Oh, good,” she says.

Success. I take the envelope. “By the way, have you seen my secretary?”

Deer in the headlights. “What's her name again?”


“Ah, yes.” Long pause. “Dooooris.” Longer pause. “What does she look like?”

I opt for the path of least resistance. “It's okay, Cindi. I'll find her.”

I start to walk away. She grabs my arm. I turn and look into her perplexed eyes. “Mr. Daley,” she says, “are you really leaving? I mean, well, you're one of the nice guys. I mean, for a lawyer. I thought partners never leave.”

Cindi, I'm leaving because I have more in common with the kids who push the mail carts than I do with my partners. I was fired because my piddly book of business isn't big enough.

I summon my best sincere face, look her right in her puppy eyes and make believe I am pouring out my heart. “I've been here for five years. I'm getting too old for a big firm. I've decided to try it on my own. Besides, I want more time for Grace.” My ex-wife has custody of our six-year-old daughter, but we get along pretty well and Grace stays with me every other weekend.

Her eyes get larger. “Somebody said you might go back to the public defender's office.”

I frown. I worked as a San Francisco PD for seven years before I joined S&G.

The State Bar Journal once proclaimed I was the best PD in Northern California. Before I went to law school, I was a priest for three years. “Actually, I'm going to share office space with another attorney.” Without an ounce of conviction, I add, “It'll be fun.” I leave out the fact I'm subleasing from my ex-wife.

“Good luck, Mr. Daley.”

“Thanks, Cindi.” It's a little scary when you talk to people at work in the same tone of voice you use with your first-grade daughter. It's even scarier to think I'll probably miss Cindi more than I'll miss any of my partners. Then again, she didn't fire me.

I know one thing for certain. I'll sure miss the regular paychecks.

I begin to push my way toward the conference room in search of Doris when I'm confronted by the six-foot-six-inch frame of Skipper Gates, who flashes the plastic three-million-dollar smile that graces fading campaign posters that are still nailed to power poles across the city. He is inhaling a glass of wine.

“Michael,” he slurs, “so good to see you.”

I don't want to deal with this right now.

At fifty-eight, his tanned face is chiseled out of solid rock, with a Roman nose, high forehead and graceful mane of silver hair. His charcoal-gray double-breasted Brioni suit, Egyptian-cotton white shirt and striped tie add dignity to his rugged features. He looks like he is ready to assume his rightful place on Mount Rushmore next to George Washington.

As an attorney, he's careless, lazy and unimaginative. As a human being, he's greedy, condescending and an unapologetic philanderer. As a politician, however, he's the real deal. Even when he's half tanked and there's a piece of shrimp hanging from his chin, he exudes charisma, wealth and, above all, style. It must be some sort of birthright of those born into privilege. As one of four children of a San Francisco cop, privilege is something I know very little about.

He squeezes my hand and pulls me uncomfortably close. “I can't believe you're leaving,” he says. His baritone has the affected quality of a man who spent his youth in boarding schools and his adulthood in country clubs. As he shouts into my ear, his breath confirms he could launch his forty-foot sailboat with the chardonnay he's consumed tonight.

His speech is touching. It's also utter bullshit. Instinctively, I begin evasive maneuvers. I pound him a little too hard on his back and dislodge the shrimp from his chin. “Who knows?” I say. “Maybe we'll get to work on a case together.”

He tilts his head back and laughs too loudly. “You bet.”

I go for the quick tweak. “Skipper, you are going to try cases, right?” District attorneys in big cities are political, ceremonial and administrative lawyers. They don't go to court. The assistant DAs try cases. If the ADA wins, the DA takes credit. If the ADA loses, the DA deflects blame. The San Francisco DA has tried only a handful of cases since the fifties.

He turns up the voltage. Like many politicians, he can speak and grin simultaneously. He hides behind the protective cocoon of his favorite sound bite. “Skipper Gates's administration is going to be different,” he says. “The DA is supposed to be a law-enforcement officer, not a social worker. Skipper Gates is going to try cases. Skipper Gates is going to put the bad guys away.”

And Mike Daley thinks you sound like a pompous ass.

He sees the mayor and staggers away. I wish you smooth sailing, Skipper. The political waters in the city tend to be choppy, even for well-connected operators like you. Things may be different when your daddy's name isn't on the door.

A moment later, I find my secretary, Doris Fontaine, who is standing just outside our power conference room, or “PCR.” Doris is a dignified fifty-six-year-old with serious blue eyes, carefully coiffed gray hair and the quiet confidence of a consummate professional. If she had been born twenty years later, she would have gone to law school and become a partner here.

“Thanks for everything, Doris,” I say. “I'll miss you.”

“I'll never get another one like you, Mikey,” she replies.

I hate it when she calls me Mikey. She does it all the time. She absentmindedly fingers the reading glasses that hang from a small gold chain around her neck. She reminds me of Sister Eunice, my kindergarten teacher at St. Peter's. She looks at the chaos in the PCR through the heavy glass door and shakes her head.

From the Audio Cassette edition.

Copyright 2000 by Sheldon Siegel

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“Tami Hoag is the queen of the crime story.”—New York Post

“[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

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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Dust to Dust 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First time to read her books, don't think I'll get another one. I could do without the tough-guy approach and the F-words. I don't listen to live conversations using that language, so why would I wish to read it? Shows a lack of imagination and expression.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had high hopes for this sequel after reading Ashes to Ashes even though its main characters had changed. Unlike most of her other books this one was different in many ways. As a reader, I hate for things to always be the same so I didn't think the changes would bother me. I always liked the fact that Tami Hoag's books had happy endings. The bad guy always got put away and the two main characters ended up together. I don't know why she would end the book the way she did. Had I bought it instead of borrowing it, I would've torn it into little pieces and burned it. Books like that don't belong on the shelf and I was very surprised to see such a great and highly-acclaimed author write such a horrible and utterly disturbing book. I wouldn't even recommend this book to my worst enemy. I would suggest only reading this book if you have nothing else to do, like sleep.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was awesome, it held my attention and had me hooked. If suspense wrapped up in a thriller is what you want, this is definitely it.
DSchulz More than 1 year ago
Tami Hoag has created two interesting characters – Kovac and Liska. Kovac is a hard older – classical fictional male detective. While Liska is a younger female decective, who is also somewhat hardened by her experience. The interplay with these two is somewhat stereotypical. Both Prior Bad Acts and Dust to Dust are very enjoyable reads. I have recommended these to other I know who like the genre.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great intertwining storyline. Fast paced. Great ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tami Hoag is one of my favorite writers......Her books are #! on my book list......Kept me guessing throughout.......
Guest More than 1 year ago
this was a good book but it left too many questions unanswered. it was good only because Tami Hoag is a good writer. she has a way with words and makes you feel whats going on. if your gonna read this book make you sure you stay focused on it. theres a lot of names to remember but its not that complicated as long as you stay focused on it and read it a steady pace. its not a bad book but i expected more from her. i guess the book isnt really bad though. go head and read it and see for yourself.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Good character development and sense of crimes. Only issue was mentioning governor's mansion and other upper class homes on Grand Ave. They're on Summit Ave.
Sue5 More than 1 year ago
wow you never know what is going to happen until it does.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love these characters and her writing! Another GREAT book! I'm so glad I found another great author (:
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My sis is dead but rp Twilighttail guy and Starryspark gal. Both single. At ten res one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cant post in result 2...) He pads around and waits to find out where the bios are. - $h@dowfang
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
((K thanx)) ……=[Featherdust]=……
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Im active u never responded to me i said u can join bios result three
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Great book, hard to put down.
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Enjoyed reading this book.  Can't wait for the sequel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down I thoroughly enjoyed this book
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