Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Down The Darkest Road" by Tami Hoag

The third book in what is called the "Oak Knoll" series moves events forward to 1990 and puts the focus on Lauren Lawton, who has moved to the town with her daughter Leah. Four years ago they were rocked by the disappearance of the other daughter Leslie when she was sixteen. Lauren and the police were convinced she was kidnapped, raped and murdered by Roland Ballencoa, but they didn't have a single shred of evidence against him. The tragedy eventually led to Lauren's husband taking his own life and the crime never being solved.

However, it would appear that Roland Ballencoa is now living in Oak Knoll as well and is up to his old tricks - including breaking into houses and soiling women's underwear. Lauren goes straight to the police, including detective Tony Mendez, to inform them of what Roland is capable of. She is especially worried, as Leah is now the same age as Leslie was when she disappeared. When it appears that Roland is communicating with Lauren and trying to scare her, Mendez and the other detectives must try and stop Ballencoa, despite still having zero evidence against him.

The problem any writer faces when dealing with a family torn apart by murder and the agaony of not knowing what actually happened is striking a balance between delivering a solid thriller while also making the characters believable and sympathetic. However, Hoag does not seem up to the task of combining the two. Lauren and Leah are - understandably - extremely bound up in their own pain over the traumatic experiences they've gone through. Unfortunately, they just keep going on and on about it. And on some more. I grew tired of the various different ways Hoag would explain how Leah or Lauren were in excruciating emotional pain. Lauren is unbalanced and drinks too much. Leah likes to cut herself. Every other chapter would bang on about it. I understand trying to make the characters realistic, but it was too much! Come on, I'm supposed to be reading a thriller here too!

There was some suspense, but the story was thin. There was no attempt to cast doubt on Ballancoa's guilt or Lauren's state of mind. One plot twist was extremely obvious. The other plot twist made Lauren appear stupid, reckless and manipulative. Basically, Lauren is the cause of most of her own problems and safety threats, and that minimised a great deal of sympathy towards her. The book offers a tense, exciting climax, but the road getting there is bumpy, drab and depressing.

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