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Monday, January 31, 2011

'Secrets to the Grave' Deeper Than Dead #2 by Tami HOAG

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

A mother is brutally murdered. A child's heart is broken. Only one woman can unravel the secret of a killing whose secrets are as silent as the grave.
The police find Marissa Fordham on her kitchen floor, her body slashed and mutilated. Lying with her head on her mother's bloody breast is Fordham's four-year-old daughter, Haley, barely clinging to life herself.

To protect their fragile witness, the police call in Anne Leone, child advocate. Anne not only works in the justice system, she's about to become star witness in the trial of the man who tried to make her his fourth victim in the See-No-Evil murders. As soon as Anne sees little Haley, alone and terrified, her heart is hers.

But it will be no easy task to unravel the secrets of Haley's young life or those of her mother. Haley hasn't spoken a word since being rescued. Meanwhile, the cops begin to peel back the layers of Marissa Fordham's life only to discover that she seems never to have officially existed.

‘Secrets to the Grave’ is the second book in Tami Hoag’s mystery series, ‘Deeper Than Dead’.

The book opens on a spectacularly horrific murder scene. A four-year-old child is found, near death, beside her mutilated mother.

The murder of artist, Marissa Fordham, takes a toll on the small college community of Oak Knoll . . . even more so when Fordham’s daughter, Haley, recuperates from the murder that local authorities are convinced was executed by someone close to the victim. The local Sheriff has many suspects to choose from – including Marissa’s wealthy patron, Milo Bordain. An unusual savant friend and mathematician, Professor Zahn . . . and the many men from Marissa’s romantic life; from adulterous affairs to complicated pasts.

This murder is turning into a murky case with many players. Local authorities have no option but to call in former FBI profiler, Vince Leone, to wade through the many suspects in Marissa’s tragic life.

Leone’s wife, Anne, accompanies him on the case. Because the only witness to the bloody murder is the victim’s daughter, the four-year-old Haley.
And what this child saw, cannot be unseen.
“When is my mommy coming?”
Anne’s heart was as heavy as a stone in her chest. She looked at Vince. Was this the time? Was there ever a right time? Did she do it now when Haley was already feeling vulnerable and frightened? Or did she tell the white lie and wait another day?
“Mommy isn’t coming, sweetheart,” she said, a mix of dread and relief churning inside her. She wasn’t keeping a terrible secret anymore. She was telling a terrible truth.
Haley’s eyes grew rounder. “Why?”
“Your mommy was hurt very badly, Haley. Do you remember when that happened? You were hurt and so was your mommy.”
“The bad daddy came,” she said, soberly. “Bad Daddy hurt my mommy.”
I haven’t read the first book in this series, but after consuming ‘Secrets to the Grave’ I fully intend to back-track and start from the beginning. Because ‘Secrets’ is so very good . . . while reading the book I was constantly horrified, sickened, engrossed and terrified. This was such a visceral reading experience, an unsettling page-turner.

The book is set in 1986, which provides an entirely new perspective on the old police procedural. For one thing, it’s fascinating to see the changes between modern police tactics, and the out-dated 80s. One of the surprisingly big differences is in the ‘911 call’ - back in the 80s an anonymous call could not be traced. As a result, Haley is left beside her mother’s rotting corpse for two days before Marissa’s death is noticed and investigated. Such a little thing, to set a mystery novel an era or two out of date, yet Hoag writes the repercussions with chilling finesse.

And because the novel is set in the 80s, there is of course a lack of reliance on technology. No mobile phone conferences or internet investigations. These cops do grunt work – nose to the grind and feet to the pavement – they interview, use common sense and theorize throughout the case. It seems like an obvious thing – but when compared to modern police procedurals, you do notice that a mystery that’s set a little out-of-date shows a lot more actual ‘policing’. It’s also fascinating to read about ‘profiling’ in its infancy with the FBI. Vince Leone and Detective Tony Mendez are among the first police pioneers of the profiling technique that puts them into the mind of their killer . . . once again, in modern mystery novels profiling is a given. So when Mendez and Leone go through the nuts and bolts of getting into a killer’s mind-set, it makes for fascinating and precise reading.

Like the picture-perfect town of Oak Knoll, Hoag’s novel is blissfully deceptive. At first glance, ‘Secrets’ could be a cozy mystery; a small-town setting, a somewhat cooky artisan victim with skeletons in her closet and a town chockfull of peculiar suspects. Instead, Hoag pulls the ‘small town mystery’ into a horrifyingly gruesome whodunit. The descriptions of Marissa’s mutilating murder, the subsequent ‘presents’ her murderer sends out . . . Hoag writes these with gag-inducing detail. And I love how the horror of the novel snuck up on me. I was especially unprepared for Hoag’s sharpened pen because a quick look at her back-list reveals a plethora of romantic best-sellers.

I loved this novel. As I said, it’s a visceral experience – Hoag induces such horror in her readers, with her gruesome detailing and innocent victims. The 80s setting is inspired, as is the misleadingly picturesque small-town location. This one is a page-turner to go on the keeper-shelf.

5/5

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