Author: Tami Hoag

Title: Down the Darkest Road

Publisher: Dutton

"Once upon a time I had the perfect family. I had the perfect husband. I had the perfect children. I had the perfect life in the perfect home. And then, as in all fairy tales, evil came into our lives and destroyed us."

Tami Hoag returns to Oak Knoll, California (and the year 1990) in the third installment of the series she began with Deeper Than the Dead. Down the Darkest Road focuses on Lauren Lawton, a woman whose sixteen-year-old daughter disappeared into thin air four years ago. Lauren knows who's behind it. Everybody knows who's behind it. But there's no evidence: no body, no clues, nada. So there's nothing the Santa Barbara police can do. 

Now her younger daughter is about to turn sixteen and Lauren is afraid the perp will turn his sights on Leah. There's nothing to keep them in Santa Barbara—Lauren burned all bridges in her relentless pursuit of justice and her husband "accidentally" drove off a cliff when the stress got too much for him. Maybe what Lauren and Leah need is a fresh start in peaceful Oak Knoll.

It's a great idea…until Lauren spots the man who took her daughter. Is he stalking them? Biding his time until he can strike again? As one might suspect with an expert like Hoag, the suspense-o-meter is set on ‘high' from the beginning and tension ratchets up a notch with every passing page.

Hoag lets us see through the eyes of multiple characters along the way, which makes for a well-rounded view of the action. Unfortunately, it also means we have to spend time inside the twisted psyche of a sexual predator as he goes about his sordid activities. Needless to say, it's not pretty in there. Tagging along on one of his little adventures in underwear left this reviewer feeling dirty. Some readers will disagree, but I'm not sure the pleasure of even a well-written story is worth the emotional residue of a visit inside a pervert's head.

Readers of earlier Oak Knoll books will enjoy more time with sheriff's detective Tony Mendez, who does his best to ‘serve and protect' Lauren and her daughter. With Lauren hovering on the edge of a breakdown and a suspect who dares the police to stop him, Tony will have his work cut out for him.

Luckily, he has help from a rarity in the early nineties: a female police detective. Detective Dani Tanner is tough enough to play with the big boys and has the foul mouth to prove it. She's not the only one with a mouth on her; there's no shortage of profanity in the book. Explicit sex makes several appearances, as well. Considering the subject matter that's hardly surprising, but it does add to the spiritual grubbiness of the story.

Despite the darkness of the subject, Down the Darkest Road is, like all of Hoag's work, extremely well done. The characters are finely drawn and the plot twists and turns like one of California's mountain roads. The suspense will have you reading faster and faster the closer you get to the end. Just be advised: while it's an interesting journey, it's not always a pleasant one.

*This review first published 1/9/2012