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Jackie K. Cooper

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Down the Darkest Road Is a Look at Crime in the Early 1990s

Posted: 12/15/11 05:14 PM ET

Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the science of DNA was still not perfected. The centralization of information through computers was still in its early stages and most police work was still dependent on the training and tenacity of the officers investigating a crime. This time period is where author Tami Hoag has placed her last three novels. The latest one, Down the Darkest Road, once again focuses on the inhabitants of Oak Knoll, Calif., and uncovers a vile human being living there.

Hoag quickly pulls the reader into this time and place and reveals the torment of a woman named Lauren Lawton. Lauren used to live in Santa Barbara, Calif., but it was there that her oldest daughter, Leslie, was abducted. The 16 year old went to a ballgame and was never seen or heard from again. A few years after Leslie's disappearance, Lauren's husband, Lance, died in a car wreck. Many thought it was suicide caused by his grief.

Now, Lauren has moved with her younger daughter, Leah, to Oak Knoll where she hopes she can keep her safe. Leah is approaching the same age that Leslie was when she was abducted and Lauren is phobic about protecting her. Therefore she panics when she sees the man she thinks abducted Leslie at a grocery store in Oak Knoll. It seems this man is in Oak Knoll to abduct and harm someone else.

The novel focuses on the plight of the victim. In many cases the victim has fewer legal rights than the person who is thought to have done the harm. Lauren wants Roland Ballencoa arrested but the police are helpless because he has not been convicted of a crime and has done nothing new to warrant an arrest. This drives Lauren to distraction and she dreams of taking the law into her own hands.

Hoag's latest novels have recurring characters. The main one in this book is Detective Tony Menendez. He is the one who learns of Lauren's problems and he makes an effort to help her. Also back for this story is Anne Leone, a counselor for abused and violated women. She too learns of Lauren's background and attempts to reach out to her and her daughter.

Hoag keeps tight control over her plot in this book, raising the tension with every page that turns. She knows her characters, both good and bad, and intensifies the conflict in the most absorbing way. Not every writer of suspense can manage it so successfully but Hoag does it from beginning to end.

Down the Darkest Road is the latest in Hoag's stories about Oak Knoll. It is also her latest book about a world before DNA testing, massive related computer intelligence, and other criminal techniques became common. It is strange how only a few short decades ago life was so different. This book stresses those differences and allows Hoag to focus on the heroism and endurance of those who protected us.

Hoag's book takes us to another time and place in what is not just a stroll down memory lane; it is a world where dangers lurked and some people were left to their own devices to protect themselves and those they loved. It is a world Hoag describes perfectly, and then adds her own fictional crime to fascinate the reader.

Down the Darkest Road is published by Dutton. It contains 416 pages and sells for $26.95.