There is an old saying: ‘Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.’ Tami Hoag’s The Boy is a dark, gritty mystery that highlights how keeping a secret often involves making sure that everyone else who knows it is, indeed, dead.
This is Hoag’s second book featuring Annie Broussard and Nick Fourcade. You don’t need to read the first one to enjoy this, although I would recommend it since a great deal of character building, relationship building and backstory is contained in A Thin Dark Line.
It’s the kind of crime scene no cop wants to be called to. In the isolated, ramshackle home of single mom Genevieve Gauthier, her young son KJ lies dead from multiple stab wounds. The first man on scene has already thrown up and Detective Nick Fourcade knows it will take all he has for him not to do the same. After all, he has a young son at home, almost the same age as the murdered child. Both boys had gone to bed wearing spiderman pajamas. But where Nick’s little man is safe at a cousin’s house, this boy lies in the middle of a bloody crime scene that is both brutal and confusing. Why would seven-year-old KJ be murdered by an alleged intruder, yet his mother be left with only some minor defensive wounds?
Nick’s wife, Detective Annie Broussard, has a gentle, comfortable way of speaking to people which makes her a formidable interrogator. She is sent to the hospital to talk to the grieving Genevieve. Kind, compassionate and the loving mother of a young son herself, Annie can relate to the horror this young woman is going through. As the daughter of a single mother, she understands more than most the challenges Genevieve would have faced to provide and care for KJ and the special bond that would have grown between them as a result. What Annie doesn’t understand is the story she’s being told about what happened that night. Why would an assailant pick the child to kill, leaving the far more articulate adult behind as a witness? Annie spends hours alternately comforting her witness and questioning her suspect. It makes her deeply uncomfortable that both of them are the grieving Genevieve.
The next morning finds Annie walking through the last day of KJ’s life. Her first stop is the school, where she learns that KJ’s sometimes babysitter, twelve-year-old Nora Florette, has skipped classes. Uneasy, she visits the girls house. Nora’s mother brushes off Annie’s initial concerns but as the day fades to night and Annie’s frantic race around town speaking to Nora’s friends shows the girl hasn’t been seen since the day before, both the family and the rest of the task force grow anxious. Hovering in the back of everyone’s mind is the recent rape of a severely autistic teenage girl. Coupled with the missing Nora and dead KJ, the press has the community questioning both the competence of the police force and the safety of their own children. Nick and Annie’s new boss, a media attention loving sheriff who cares far more about looking good than solving cases, adds an extra level of pressure to the already strenuous situation. But this case is far from over, as a desperate killer tries to silence every possible witness in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the detectives that are coming far too close to finding them.
I love tales that show how small towns often contain deeply shady characters and The Boy is definitely one of those books. Set in the quiet, Cajun community of Bayou Breaux, Louisiana, the story perfectly captures the delicate task of village policing among people who pride themselves on ‘minding their own’ while actually being deeply intrusive into other people’s lives. It seemed that almost everyone had a secret and that that secret was often rather repulsive. Many of the characters are simply unlikable, from Genevieve’s slumlord to the bullying new sheriff. Annie, Nick and their friends are the only bright spots in a very dark landscape. That made the story a little less enjoyable than it might have been, although on the positive side it increased the intrigue of the mystery. Fans of the first novel will be glad to know this book shows Annie and Nick successfully married, even if they are going through a rough patch at the start of the story. They haven’t changed a bit and are still deeply in love.
The plot is delicately intricate, filled with red herrings and laced with themes of bullying, infidelity, abuse, and homophobia. I questioned the inclusion of that last. I think readers might be uncomfortable with the slurs thrown at a particular character and how that person is forced to question their own sexuality. To be clear, the homophobic behavior is very negatively portrayed. The characters behind it are hateful and are deliberately drawn in such a manner that we have little to no empathy for them. I simply felt some readers would want to know going in that such behavior was included.
I think fans of Hoag and fans of grittier police procedural mysteries will thoroughly enjoy The Boy. I certainly found it to be a page turner and was enthralled from beginning to end. My one criticism is that the conclusion was a bit of a let-down and I rolled my eyes some at one of the denouements since I thought it was completely out of character, but that didn’t change the fact that I loved the journey of getting to that moment. So I’m aware the ending might be mildly disappointing to some but would still strongly recommend the story. This is the perfect book for suspense fans to while away a cold afternoon with.
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