We're all so used to Criminal Minds, and DNA analysis on CSI and other shows, that we've forgotten what investigations must have been like before technology changed crime scene investigation. Tami Hoag's latest suspense novel, Deeper Than the Dead, takes us back to 1985, before cell phones and computers on every desk in the police station. It was also the early years of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, soon after the birth of criminal profiling, a science not yet accepted by the police. But, Hoag's FBI profiler, Vince Leone, is so skilled we forget he doesn't have all of today's tools.
Instead, he begins with a contaminated crime scene, and children. It's a small group of four fifth-graders who stumble over a woman's body in a park in Oak Knoll, California. One of them, Tommy Crane, actually fell on the mound of dirt that covered the corpse. Since the kids were all coming from school, it's their teacher, Anne Navarre, who steps in to comfort, question, and support them. It doesn't take long for the sheriff's department to call in the FBI, when they discover the woman's connection to another missing woman. And, Leone, still suffering from the aftermath of a shooting, agrees to work with them, on his own time.
Hoag skillfully intertwines the investigation with the stories of the children, their families, and Anne Navarre. It's a fascinating look at the effect of family life on an individual, a study that was in its infancy in 1985. Residents thought they knew Oak Knoll as a safe, college community. But, no one really knows what goes on behind the scenes in a family, as Anne finds to her horror.
Vince Leone is a flawed hero, suffering from unknown aftereffects as a result of shrapnel in his brain. But, he's just one of the intriguing characters in this book. Hoag's suspense novel is a study of characters. She shines with the characters of Vince, Anne, the children, and the police. The greatest weakness in the book is actually in the villain, and his motivation. The book wraps up too quickly, without enough emphasis on the villain, and reasons for the murders. Those connections are weak. But, Hoag's portrayal of the other characters makes up for that weakness.
Despite the weakness, if you want to kick off the new year with a riveting page-turner, Tami Hoag's Deeper Than the Dead should work.
Tami Hoag's website is www.tamihoag.com
Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag. Dutton, ©2009. ISBN 9780525951308 (hardcover), 432p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received my review copy of the book from Tami Hoag's publicist at Dutton, in hopes I would review it.
(One more thing about me you didn't know - #6. I'm a big fan of Criminal Minds, watching reruns in bed at night. It made me feel good to have author Alan Jacobson confirm that the shows are accurate in the portrayal of the BSU, minus the jet and private offices, of course.)