Sunday, February 27, 2011

Secrets to the Grave

Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag
Penguin Group (USA, 2011
Hardcover, 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525951926
Deeper than the Dead series #2
highly recommended

Marissa Fordham had a past full of secrets, a present full of lies. Everyone knew of her, but no one knew her.
When Marissa is found brutally murdered, with her young daughter, Haley, resting her head on her mother's bloody breast, she sends the idyllic California town of Oak Knoll into a tailspin. Already on edge with the upcoming trial of the See- No-Evil killer, residents are shocked by reports of the crime scene, which might not have been discovered for days had it not been for a chilling 911 call: a small child's voice saying, "My daddy hurt my mommy."
Sheriff's detective Tony Mendez faces a puzzle with nothing but pieces that won't fit. To assist with his witness, Haley, he calls teacher-turned-child advocate Anne Leone. Anne's life is hectic enough-she's a newlywed and a part- time student in child psychology, and she's the star witness in the See-No-Evil trial. But one look at Haley, alone and terrified, and Anne's heart is stolen.
As Tony and Anne begin to peel back the layers of Marissa Fordham's life, they find a clue fragment here, another there. And just when it seems Marissa has taken her secrets to the grave, they uncover a fact that puts Anne and Haley directly in the sights of a killer: Marissa Fordham never existed.

My Thoughts:

One thing became quite clear to me after reading Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag, the second book in the Deeper Than the Dead series: I don't want to move to Oak Knoll, California, no matter how idyllic the setting seems. This time young artist Marissa Fordham is found brutally murdered with her barely-alive four year old daughter, Haley, resting her head on her dead mother's shoulder.

Tony Mendez is back on the case with assistance from, among others, Vince Leone, former FBI profiler. Vince has married Anne Navarre, who is now a child advocate, and they both live in Oak Knoll. In fact, many of the characters from Deeper Than the Dead are back along with some new characters. The investigation from the previous novel is also mentioned several times. While Secrets to the Grave can be a stand alone novel, I think reading it after Deeper Than the Dead would be a wise move. Hoag does a great job developing her characters and setting the first time around and they even further developed in this second novel in the series.

The first novel was more tense as a serial killer was running loose, but I think I liked this second novel in the series a tiny bit more than the first one, which I also liked a lot. It could be simply from familiarity with the characters and seeing the character development over the two novels when read back to back. This time Hoag again had several likely suspects and kept me guessing until the end who the murderer was.

I really think anyone who enjoys mysteries where care is taken to develop the characters and the setting as well as resolve the case are going to enjoy almost anything Tami Hoag writes, including Secrets to the Grave.
Highly Recommended

Disclosure: My copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher.


The house stood by itself back off the road in a field of dried golden grass, half hidden by spreading oaks. An amalgam of styles - part Spanish, part ranch - the once-white stucco building was weathered in a way that made it seem a part of the natural surroundings, as if it had grown up out of the earth and belonged there as much as any of the hundred-year-old trees. opening

Beside her lay a smaller doll—her child--head resting on her shoulder, face streaked with the last of her mother’s life’s blood.
The flies buzzed. The wall clock ticked above the sink.
The telephone receiver lay on the floor, stenciled with small bloody fingerprints. The last words spoken into it were a whisper still hanging in the air: “My daddy hurt my mommy . . .” pg. 2

“The victim is Marissa Fordham, twenty-eight, single mom. An artist.”
Sheriff’s Detective Tony Mendez rattled off the facts as if unaffected by what he had seen inside the house. pg. 3

“No paraphernalia. The house is too clean for a junkie. I don’t make it for drugs. It doesn’t feel that way.”
“No,” Leone agreed. “This was personal. No question. We’re looking at maybe thirty or forty stab wounds.” pg. 6

It should have been a beautiful space. It probably had been a beautiful space filled with Marissa Fordham's extraordinary art - all of which had been torn and ruined, slashed and broken. Paintings, sculpture - all of it now nothing but debris, the detritus of a murderer's rage. pg. 28

In my opinion the attack on Marissa Fordham was personal. That many stab wounds is personal. But that butcher knife looks to have belonged to the victim, which make this seem more like a crime of opportunity, of the moment. Someone got angry, grabbed that knife and used it...." pg. 37

There was one reason Mendez had chosen to stay in Oak Knoll, even though Leone had encouraged him to make the move to the Bureau with an eye to eventually becoming part of the Investigative Support Unit. He wanted to learn from the best. Vince Leone was the best and Vince was here. pg. 45

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