I haven’t read anything by Tami Hoag since Thin, Dark Line, and I’m glad that I picked Dark Horse to go back to. It features dark characters to be sure, but it’s an oddly satisfying read.
Elena Estes is a former police officer drowning in guilt over her part in the death of a coworker. At sea in her life, she daily contemplates committing suicide. She has no idea what to do with her life and is temporarily staying with a childhood friend. Elena finds a purpose when she is approached by 12-year-old Molly Seabright, who is convinced her older sister Erin is in trouble. Erin Seabright hasn’t been seen in days, but her parents don’t seem to care. Elena takes the case after she does a little digging to see if there’s any veracity to Molly’s story.
I found it interesting that I liked Elena. She doesn’t care about anyone, she’s a grade-A smart ass, and she’s not necessarily nice. Elena reminded me of another heroine I recently read about, but unlike that character whom I could not stand, Elena has good reasons for her off-putting ways. She is like she is partially as a defense against her parents, but also because of deep, deep remorse.
You won’t find many secondary characters to like in this book except little Molly Seabright. At one point Elena calls her a very special person, and she’s right. An uncaring mother has forced Molly to raise herself and she’s turned out pretty well. As Elena works on the case, she develops a close relationship with Molly that’s touching to watch. Elena’s other close relationship is with her childhood friend, Sean. They are kindred spirits, both poor little rich kids with horrible parents. Yet they found each other, and beneath the surface there’s genuine caring.
Molly’s mother is pathetic, and her stepfather is a controlling jerk. Elena’s efforts to convince the family that Erin is in deep trouble fall on such deaf ears you’ll be amazed. Erin’s employers before she disappeared – Don Jade and Paris Montgomery – are smooth, rich, greedy, and fake, and their associates aren’t much better. Landry, the detective Elena badgers into taking the case, is gruff and something of a jerk at first, but he grows to respect Elena. But his character could have been a little more well-rounded.
The villains weren’t obvious to me, and the suspense kept me turning the pages. Hoag’s style drew me in and kept me going, and the more I read, the more I wanted to figure out what happened to Erin. In retrospect, the solution to the puzzle might have been more obvious had I paid closer attention because Hoag does provide the clues.
Dark Horse is set in the equestrian world, and Hoag gives a great glimpse into this sub-culture. She reveals in the author’s note that the horse world is her alternate home and talks about the seedy side to it. I found this part of the story fascinating. Hoag includes little details that give an authentic flavor to the horse shows, such as stalls set up for braiding the horse’s hair. I should warn you, though. There is disturbing talk about how some horses are killed. Those scenes are not for the faint of heart, and if you’re an animal lover, they may be difficult to read.
Overall, I found Dark Horse a highly absorbing page-turner. It’s dark and a little disturbing, but I thought the ending was strangely hopeful. Any book that sucks me in as much as this one did gets a more than just a passing grade.