Secrets to the Grave
What if your whole life was a secret? A lie meant to protect another lie? And what if those closest to you had lies of their own? Little secrets that they would kill to keep? What tales would you tell to set yourself free? And what secrets would you carry to the grave?
Marissa Fordham was somebody everybody knew. A popular local artist and a friendly single mom, Marissa was a fixture in the town of Oak Knoll. Until the night somebody stabbed her to death, leaving behind a gruesome crime scene – and a four year old witness barely clinging to life.
Detective Tony Mendez has seen some horrific murders thanks to Oak Knolls own “See-No-Evil” serial killer. He, his mentor Vince Leone, and the rest of Oak Knolls small law enforcement community are already on edge awaiting that trial. And then the 9-1-1 call comes – a small voice saying “My daddy hurt my mommy.” And Tony finds himself facing a terrifying scene of rage and death. Tony quickly realizes they are out of their depth with young Haley,the star witness, a child who calls every man in her life “daddy”. To help chart the turbulent waters of the four year old mind. Tony calls in child advocate Anne Leone, Vince’s new bride. Vince is concerned this may be too much for her – she is already more than busy as a new wife and with her own role as star witness against the SNE killer. Anne is happy to help, though, and plunges right into her role as Haley’s protector. As Tony, Vince and Anne work to solve the crime and keep their young charge safe, they come to the realization that nothing in this case is as at it originally seems. Marissa’s life was full of secrets. And her friends all of have secrets which they are desperate to keep.
Like Hoag’s earlier Deeper than the Dead, this novel centers around Vince and Anne Leone and their role in law enforcement in the 80’s. I have to admit it has been a bit of a hoot to see this time treated as a “historical period” since it is one I remember well. Ouch! Tony, the youngest member of the group, speaks longingly of the near future when their will be DNA evidence (at the time discovered but not yet admitted in trials), computers on every desk and a phone in every pocket. It is so easy to take for granted the advantages we have today; I really felt for the officer who spent all day on the phone frustratingly trying to ferret out information that can be found today with a click of a button. Then again, our criminals have advanced with the times and often know how to deal with that little problem. And it is funny to imagine life without help a quick cell call away.
The history doesn’t take over the story, though. It is still very much a timely thriller, dealing with issues which can still be touchy today. The police faced the same frustration of sifting through lies that were simply self-serving and lies that were being used to cover a crime. Like today, the human mind was an enigma and being handicapped by two witnesses with deep psychological issues (one with Aspergers, one a traumatized child) added to all the problems. These two witnesses kept Vince and Anne pretty much occupied throughout the book.
For Tony, one of his biggest problems was yet another witness, the lovely Sara Morgan. Sara’s daughter had found the SNE killer’s first local body and she had been on the periphery of that investigation. Now she is once more on the periphery of a violent crime. Is she just unlucky or is her behavior suspect? Tony can’t find it in him to believe anything evil about this fragile, gracious woman, but he knows that others on the force don’t quite see it that way.
The mystery here works superbly well. While you could guess who it was, tangling out every piece of it is great fun for the suspense fan. Hoag is a master of the game and she puts her skills to good use here, luring us in and making us eager to ferret out who, what, when, where and why.
My biggest problem was that I couldn’t find myself really caring for any of the characters. I didn’t love Anne in the last book and still didn’t love her in this one. Vince is a great cop but he didn’t pull at my heart strings. Tony had to share page space with them, so while I adored him, one of my frustrations was not getting enough time with him. That lack of emotional involvement on my part didn’t keep this from being a great read but it did keep it from reaching DIK level for me. Still, as far as what is out there in the suspense market this novel is absolutely first rate. Low on romance but high on intrigue. Definitely worth reading for that alone.