It’s a sunny afternoon when four fifth grade students running through the park woods stumble upon the body of a murder victim. She is the latest in a string of three bodies and a missing person. Detective Tony Mendez has a hunch that this is the work of a serial killer, and calls an old friend, Vince Leone, FBI profiler extraordinaire, to consult. It is as he fears, and he can only hope that he and Vince can find the killer before he or she strikes again.
I really liked the creepiness of the killer. I thought the signature of depriving the victims of sight, speech and hearing was original and scary. I really liked the way a child’s letter of hero worship about his father is interspersed with segments of the killer going through the routine with his latest victim. It is a great way to show that the killer could be anyone, even a devoted family man, and that’s always the scariest thing of all.
I love the character of Anne Navarre. She is fun, witty, and fiercely protective of her students. When she feels one of her students is being abused at home, she steps in. She is there for all of the students who found the body and refuses to allow anyone to push them around or scare them in any way. She’s not afraid to stand up to anyone, especially a misogynistic bully like Frank Farman, and I love that about her. It is also what attracts Vince toward her. There is a bit of insta-love between the two, as well as a good fifteen to twenty year age difference, but they at least love each other for the right reasons. I read the third book before this one, so I knew where their romance would lead, and I enjoyed watching the slow beginnings.
I felt bad for the kids who found the body. Tommy Crane is a sweet, smart little boy who is often picked on and rarely stands up for himself. He and his friend Wendy were being tormented by Dennis Farman, the class bully, and his little sidekick, Cody. None of these kids have the happiest of home situations, especially Dennis and Tommy. I even felt bad for Dennis when his downward spiral commenced, due to everything he went through at home. Honestly, it was bound to happen, considering what that kid witnessed and dealt with on a daily basis.
I swear, there must be something in the water in Oak Knoll that produces awful parents. Other than Sara, Wendy’s mother, everyone has at least one crappy parental figure. Tommy’s mother is a raging narcissist control freak, who cares more that he missed his piano lesson than that he just stumbled upon a dead body in the park. She drugs him to make him sleep, screams at anyone who crosses her, and goes into spastic rages for little to no reason. Dennis’s father, Frank, is an abusive misogynistic jerk who happens to work for the Sherriff’s department. He thinks all women are whores that are meant to serve men, and that’s exactly how he treats his wife. He beats her and berates her in front of Dennis, who, in turn, begins to believe that all women are stupid useless cows, only good for cooking food and having sex. Even Anne’s father is a complete prick, picking her apart constantly.
While I find the character of Franny amusing, I do feel he screams “GAY CLICHÉ!” He’s well-dressed, loves kids, is effeminate, loves fashion, etc. Every time I read a line of his dialogue, the cliché “gay lisp” would run through my head. I feel he’s a little too out there and obnoxiously flamboyant, hitting every gay cliché character trait out there. I think he would have been a better character if he was more subtle, not constantly reminding the reader that he is gay. We know, but there should be more to a character than clichés surrounding their sexuality.
I did like the overall story. I found the characters likable and the crime interesting. Hoag knows how to create suspense, ending each chapter just so, making me want to keep reading. If I hadn’t read Down the Darkest Road before this, I think I would have been fairly surprised when the killer’s identity was revealed. Hoag peppered in enough red herrings to make it harder to zero in on the actual villain.
Overall, it was a fun, suspenseful read. Aside from the cliché gay character and everyone’s parents being despicable, the mystery is solid and the villain is creepy.