Saturday, January 14, 2012


    Intense, gritty, terrifying - the latest in Tami Hoag’s Oak Knoll series is a page-turner par excellence.  The time setting is the late 1980s - 90s when tracing by DNA had not been fully developed and information via computer was not as available as it is now.  Hence, tracing a criminal was a much more challenging task for law enforcement officers.  In this case, not only tracing but proving guilt.

    We’re introduced to the story through the eyes of Lauren Lawton who writes, “Once upon a time I had the perfect family.  I had the perfect husband: Handsome, loving, successful.  I had the perfect children: Leslie and Leah - beautiful, brilliant, precious girls.  I had the perfect life in the perfect home, in the perfect place......And then, as in all fairy tales, evil came into our lives and destroyed us.”

    Evil came in the person of a barbarous, vile individual, Roland Ballencoa.  Four years ago he had abducted Leslie or the police were pretty certain he had - but they could not prove it.  Not too long after the girl’s abduction Lauren’s husband drove off a bridge; it was thought a suicide due to the stress and guilt of being unable to protect his daughter. 

    Bent on revenge and driven to the point of exhaustion Lauren takes Leah and moves to Oak Knoll hoping to put at least a small part of their tragic past behind them.  That is not be for she soon finds that Ballencoa is also in Oak Knoll, stalking mother and daughter.  It’s all an insidious game to him, watching, frightening, taking pictures with his camera.

    Lauren is reluctant to go to the police as they’ve not helped her in the past, but considered her a royal pain in the neck for constantly pushing them to arrest Ballencoa, to find Leslie.  But Ballencoa is a wily beast, evidently never breaking the law, but silently stalking.  Lauren is sickened to realize that in her case the person believed to be a criminal actually has more legal rights than she does.  Eventually, she does turn to Detective Tony Menendez who believes her but can see no way to help her.

    Hoag has woven a gripping tale, written in brief chapters, almost staccato-like, quick as a bullet which leaves the reader sometimes gasping, always turning pages.  Down The Darkest Road is epic suspense seasoned with ravaged emotions and cliff-hanger scenes.  Strong medicine so keep all the houselights on.

    - Gail Cooke

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