Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag (A Review)

When three children stumble on a shallow grave in 1984, an idyllic California community is rocked to its core. The victim is a young woman, her eyes and lips sealed closed, a blind and silent witness to an unspeakable crime. The third victim in two years’ time, it’s clear that a serial killer has come calling.

As a member of the FBI’s fledgling criminal profiling unit, Special Agent Tony Mendez knows serial killers. It quickly becomes apparent that the See-No-Evil killer is no ordinary psychopath. The profile paints a portrait of a man easily trusted, well respected, and intelligent—a man no one would suspect.

Dr. Peter Crane fits the bill. A pillar of the community, he volunteers at a center for disadvantaged women—a center the victims had all attended. Crane is also a beloved husband and father to a ten-year-old son, Tommy, who was one of the three children to discover the grave. Needing insight into Peter Crane’s world, Mendez asks Anne Navarre, Tommy’s fifth-grade teacher, to find out what she can. It’s a request Anne finds both intriguing and unethical—much like Mendez himself.

Then a new victim leads to a different suspect—a man whose son was another of the three children to find the grave but a man whose position in the community is also above reproach, a sheriff’s deputy. As the connections between the two families become increasingly tangled, it seems clear that one of these children holds the key to a serial killer’s double life . . . and a revelation of evil so dark, so deep, no one may survive.

Usually Tami Hoag's books suck me in immediately. This one took me awhile to warm up too. I did have a hard time which the kids' points of view. Perhaps it was the child-like perceptions of the world and perhaps it was the immediate loss of innocence. I mean, these kids, from mostly idyllic homes, have their entire lives come crashing down on them because they fell on a dead body in a park. Immediately their families are under suspicion (by the cops in the books and the readers) and it causes stress at home and at one point a complete meltdown/psychotic break for one kid. That part of it was just so sad. Maybe it's because of my background in psych, or maybe its just human nature in wanting to protect kids from harsh reality, but none of those parts of the book sat well with me. It was also pretty frustrating that the book is set in 1984 - aka the stone-age of forensics. They keep talking about the "up and coming" technology, which has now been around for years...

I did really get into once the story took a more adult perspective. I loved the new character FBI agent Vince Leon. He was like a character from Criminal Minds (a show I love!) and I really liked his relationships with Detective Mendez and the young school teacher Anne. From about 100 pages in, I couldn't put the book down, even when I was cringing in disgust or wanting to cover my eyes! It gave me everything I expected - grisly murders, multiple plausible suspects, a little bit of romance, and on the edge of your seat suspense. I will definitely be picking up her next novel with these characters, Secrets to the Grave.
Overall I give it 4/5 - couldn't quite stomach the kid part, but other than that loved it.


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