Down the Darkest Road, the third book in Tami Hoag’s Oak Knoll series, is provocative, intriguing, and, definitely not for the squeamish. I find this series fascinating since it predates so many developments in forensic science, while the police know the changes are coming, and are often frustrated by that knowledge. In this case, with a book set in 1990, the police are unable to analyze a small amount of blood because the sample could be destroyed. It’s a small amount of blood that could have prevented so much tragedy.
Lauren Lawton now defines herself as the mother of a missing child. Her oldest daughter, Leslie, went missing in 1986 when she was sixteen. Four years later, the police have not been able to find evidence against the man that Lauren knows took her daughter. Now, with her husband dead, and her youngest daughter, Leah, about to turn sixteen, Lauren moves to Oak Knoll, hoping to finally end the years of uncertainty and turmoil.
But, Lauren is still living a nightmare, and when she thinks she sees her suspect, she runs into Detective Anthony Mendez of the Oak Knoll Sheriff’s Department. He has a great deal of sympathy for the grieving, angry mother, but his hands are tied, because the suspect hasn’t done anything illegal in Oak Knoll. And, his investigation only leads him to other jurisdictions where Lauren Lawton has created more trouble than the suspect has. Now, with a suspect, an angry woman, and a determined detective all in Oak Knoll, there can only be a confrontation.
Lauren Lawton has an outlet for her frustration, and she writes some of the narration, explaining her viewpoint. And, Mendez, the series protagonist, is an appealing character. But, it’s Leah Lawton, Lauren’s surviving daughter, who stands out. It’s her feelings that are so hard to read. “Sometimes Leah thought it didn’t even register with her mother that she had gone through the same experience her parents had when Leslie was taken.” Leah feels guilt, and she can’t turn to her mother. Leah cuts herself, searching for some relief. Her parents sent her away, and she didn’t see them for a month while they searched for Leslie. “It had been as if the only daughter they had was the one that was missing, and they forgot about the one right there, the one that hadn’t broken the rules, the one that hadn’t been grounded and gone out anyway.” Leah Lawton is the character that breaks your heart.
Despite some of the disgusting details, it’s hard to put down Tami Hoag’s Down the Darkest Road. And, I knew the twist about half-way through the book. Even so, I had to continue to read to see the train wreck. It was obvious there was going to be a tragic confrontation. Hoag knows how to force readers to continue to turn the pages.
Tami Hoag’s website is www.TamiHoag.com.
Down the Darkest Road by Tami Hoag. Dutton. ©2012. ISBN 9780525952398 (hardcover), 432p.
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