Set in 1985 before the advent of DNA and advancements in the solving of crimes, Oak Knoll is a quiet community rocked by the vicious murder of one woman and the kidnapping of another. The victims have their eyes and mouths glued shut and their eardrums pierced, which results in the killer being dubbed the "See No Evil" killer. Fifth grade teacher Anne Navarre is drawn into the mystery due to the fact that four of her students discovered the body. Tony Mendez is the detective on the case, and he calls in Vince Leone, one of the pioneers of serial killer profiling, a skill still in its infancy and not internationally recognised the way it is now. There is, of course, an immediate spark between Anne and Vince.
Anne begins to learn more and more about the family lives of the four students who witnessed the crime. All are hiding secrets and one of the fathers could possibly be the killer Mendez and Leone are hunting. Not good, considering one of them is also a detective himself.
There's no denying "Deeper Than The Dead" is a compelling thriller. It was the sort of book that had me reading another chapter during any spare moment I had. I finished it quite quickly. Despite its length, it is decently paced, and appropriately grim and disturbing. I would definitely recommend reading it. However, there was a lot about the novel that bothered me.
Setting the story in 1985 was something that appealed to me, as Hoag could not fall back on that same old standby most thriller writers do these days, in which chapters and chapters go by while detectives wait around for lab results. There barely were any crime labs back when this story was set, which forces Hoag to keep the plot moving. Unfortunately, it never really felt like it was actually taking place in 1985. A few pop culture references here and there, some brief descriptions of clothing - it just didn't evoke the proper atmosphere. For all I knew, this could still have been going down in 2009/2010 (when the book was written/published). Nevertheless, like I said, this tactic essentially keeps Hoag on her toes, finding other ways to keep the plot moving along.
Unfortunately, one of the ways she does this is to cram too many psychos into the same book. Not only do we have our serial killer, we have 12-year-old psycho Dennis Farman, son of detective Frank Farman, aforementioned possible suspect in the murders. He's exhibiting all the hallmarks of growing up to be a sexual sadist. On top of this, there is a junkyard owner who is a suspected pedophile and child murderer. He's presented as a major red herring, even though both the characters and reader alike know he's not the killer the police are after. Adding insult to injury, this subplot is abruptly dropped not long after it is introduced. What was the point of it all again?
Another niggling point is Hoag's representation of gay characters. Not as offensive as, say, James Heymann's "The Cutting", but she seems to think all gay people are highly effeminate and call everybody "honey". This representation has already cropped up in previous novels such as "Dark Horse, "The Alibi Man" and "Dust To Dust". Only a minor quibble, however.
Yes, I've picked the novel apart a fair bit, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I was totally captivated from start to finish, in fact. As soon as I finished this one, I grabbed "Secrets To The Grave" and started reading that. I wanted to find out what happened next. I want to see the new directions the characters might be taken. Signs of a good novel. Maybe even a great novel? The third entry in the series has just been released to stores, and I imagine that will be high up on my reading list too.