Saturday, February 9, 2013

"A Thin Dark Line" by Tami Hoag

Deputy Annie Broussard feels a personal responsibility for making sure that murder victim Pamela Bichon, whose dead body she discovered, sees justice done. That proves difficult when the man arrested for the murder, Marcus Renard, walks free on a technicality.

She speaks to lead detective Nick Fourcade about joining the investigation and finding the evidence needed to finally convinct Renard. That same night, however, she comes across Fourcarde beating the living daylights out of Renard, and subsequently arrests him.

Arresting one of her own immediately puts Annie off-side with her entire department, and she becomes the target of a vicious hate campaign. However, this is not enough to stop her from disobeying orders and trying to solve the mystery with Nick, whom she feels an inexplicable attraction towards.

A series of new rapes with some similarities to the crime against Pamela occur, and the community is on edge. What is the connection between the rapes and Pamela's murder? Is Marcus actually guilty. Annie must find the truth as Marcus begins to display the same obsessive behaviour about her that he did for Pamela.

A Thin Dark Line sets up a decent mystery in the initial 200-or-so pages....and then it just dies in the ass. We have a possible murderer walking free. We also have the possibility that somebody else was responsible. Typical ingredients for a mystery/crime thriller, and reliable ones. But after establishing her set-up, Hoag then beats the same dead horse for about the next 350 pages, whilst also delivering the romantic cliches of her earlier works as Annie and Nick fall for each other.

A pattern is quickly established with these elements happening over and over again:
- Annie gets treated like a piece of dirt by one of her co-workers, often in aggressive, near-violent circumstances.
- Marcus tells Annie that she is the only one on his side, whilst she says she is just doing her job.
- Annie disobeys another order and wonders whether the person she's questioning will dob her into her boss.
- Nick gets angry and beats somebody up.
- A woman gets raped.
- An anonymous enemy tries to kill Annie and she wonders whether it's a co-worker or Marcus.
- Annie thinks to herself what a better investigator she is, and how much more honest she is, than every single one of the men around her.

Eventually, I hate to say it, I got tired of Annie myself and began to sympathise will all the people around her telling her to piss off. She keeps putting herself in the line of danger, and risking her job, because she feels a duty to bring justice to Pamela, simply because she was the one who found the body. I'm sorry, but that just smacks of a me-me-me attitude. She goes on and on about how much better she is at her job than everybody else, and often tells people of this fact too, usually whilst accusing them of being lazy and corrupt. She really became insufferable.

Nick is no better. His use of "chere" as a term of endearment for Annie became very tiresome. If he were Italian in some other romantic suspenser, he'd be calling her "cara mia". Blech. When he's not beating the crap out of somebody, he's got a bee in his bonnet about local developer Duval Marcotte and his connection to Pamela's ex-husband Donnie Bichon. This plot strand takes up a lot of space, despite not really going anywhere and barely even passing muster as a red herring.

And after 500 pages of the same thing over and over again, do we get a surprise revelation? No, we don't. The rapes aren't connected to Pamela Bichon at all and were committed by a character we'd never even met up until that point. The solution of Pamela's murder is similarly arbitrary - basically, pick a character who is never mentioned as a possible suspect and you'll be close.

A Thin Dark Line obviously represents a move for Tami Hoag, away from romantic suspense and more towards the grittier crime thrillers that she is now well-known for. Yes, Annie still finds it hard to swallow when she sees Nick's rock-hard abs, but it thankfully is not the focus of the story. As a part of the history of an author's evolution, this one might hold some interest, but I found it excruciatingly dull and unsatisfactory. In the words of Cajun French: c'est ein affaire a pus finir! (It's a thing that has no end!) Or that's what it felt like, anyway.

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