Down the Darkest Road - Tami Hoag It has been four years since Leslie Lawton vanished on her way home from a softball game. Four years and not a trace of her has been found. Her mother, Lauren, while still not giving up hope that her daughter’s disappearance will one day be solved, has packed up younger daughter, Leah, and moved to Oak Knoll, California. Unfortunately, the man Lauren suspects abducted Leslie has also recently moved to town, and his sights might be set on Leah.

I didn’t realize this was part of a series when I bought this on impulse from Target. It looked interesting, and I usually enjoy a quick thrill at the hands of Tami Hoag. Still, if you haven’t read either Deeper than the Dead or Secrets to the Grave, do so before reading this one. Otherwise, prepare to have the endings for both spoiled for you. I haven’t read either one, and despite the fact that they both sound like fun reads, I probably won’t for a while because I know how they end. I wish Hoag hadn’t done that, because it ruins the first two books in the series for me. I also didn’t like that these spoilers were revealed more than once, by three separate characters. I may have been able to forget it, but they had to bring it up two more times.

I really wanted to like Lauren but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. I understand that she’s grieving both the loss of her eldest daughter and her husband, but she does have a young daughter to parent, and she’s not doing the greatest job. She doesn’t take care of herself, doesn’t eat, and drinks all the time. She’s paranoid and doesn’t let Leah go hardly anywhere – which is understandable, but hey, Leah is a teenager, let her have some time to be a kid. Also, the twist revelation about Lauren’s intentions in Oak Knoll really angered me, they could have left that part out and I would have been able to like her character a little.

I felt I could relate a bit to Leah, the youngest daughter. I know what it’s like growing up and being the good child, the one who follows all the rules and tries not to make waves; the one who tries not to burden other people with her problems because they’re suffering from the same things. I’ve been there, and it’s rough. It made me so angry that Lauren was so wrapped up in herself and her own pain that she didn’t even notice that her daughter was suffering too. Leah was living in the shadow of an older sibling who wasn’t even around anymore.

I did like the characters that are apparently part of the ongoing series – Tony Mendez and Ann Leone. Both provided as much support and aid to Lauren as they could, especially when the creep who took Leslie begins harassing her at her home in Oak Knoll. With no proof that he was on her property, there’s nothing the police can do to help her, but Mendez looks into her case anyway, and winds up working with Detective Danni Tanner – my favorite female character out of the whole book. She’s confident, tough, quick with the wit, and has a healthy appetite. I enjoyed her immensely and hope to see her in future entries in the Oak Knoll series.

This novel does differ from Hoag’s usual style slightly because we know the identity of the bad guy the entire time. Normally, Hoag will have the reader see a little bit of the story through the villain’s eyes, but we never know who that villain is until he or she reveals him/herself. Here, we know his identity, and we see the disgusting things he does and thinks about. He’s also incredibly frustrating because he knows that both Lauren and the police are onto him, and he plays cat-and-mouse games with them, hiding behind his rights when they try to retaliate. I wanted to reach into the book and kill him myself.

The twist toward the end caught me a little by surprise, but not entirely. The events of the climax are pretty action packed, and I’ve got to say, Hoag doesn’t let her heroines go down without a fight. These ladies are fierce, even when backed into a corner, and there seems to be no way out, they still give it everything they’ve got.

Overall, this is a fun, simple read. If you don’t want the first two books in the Oak Knoll series ruined for you, I would read the series in order. This one gives away the endings to the prior two. While Lauren was a frustrating character, the rest of the colorful cast made up for it. Worth a look if you’re into mystery/thrillers with interesting plot lines and characters who won’t take pain laying down.