Marissa Fordham had a past full of secrets, a present full of lies. Everyone knew of her, but no one knew her.
When Marissa is found brutally murdered, with her young daughter, Haley, resting her head on her mother’s bloody breast, she sends the idyllic California town of Oak Knoll into a tailspin. Already on edge with the upcoming trial of the See- No-Evil killer, residents are shocked by reports of the crime scene, which might not have been discovered for days had it not been for a chilling 911 call: a small child’s voice saying, “My daddy hurt my mommy.”
Sheriff’s detective Tony Mendez faces a puzzle with nothing but pieces that won’t fit. To assist with his witness, Haley, he calls teacher-turned-child advocate Anne Leone. Anne’s life is hectic enough-she’s a newlywed and a part- time student in child psychology, and she’s the star witness in the See-No-Evil trial. But one look at Haley, alone and terrified, and Anne’s heart is stolen.
As Tony and Anne begin to peel back the layers of Marissa Fordham’s life, they find a clue fragment here, another there. And just when it seems Marissa has taken her secrets to the grave, they uncover a fact that puts Anne and Haley directly in the sights of a killer: Marissa Fordham never existed.
This is the second book in Tami Hoag’s 1980s set thriller series, 1986 for this one to be exact. SECRETS TO THE GRAVE is the sequel to DEEPER THAN THE DEAD, and picks up not long after. Anne Navarre is waiting for her assailant, Peter Crane, to go to trial, and she has married Vince Leone. There is a small subplot involving Dennis Farman who is also incarcerated following the previous book, and we spend time with Sara, Steve, and Wendy Morgan again. As with DEEPER THAN THE DEAD, Hoag introduces us to a large cast of characters who populate the small town of Oak Knoll, California.
First, we meet Zander Zahn, a professor and mathematical savant, who had an unusual friendship with the deceased Marissa Fordham and a history that puts him under the spotlight as a murder suspect. We also meet the wealthy Bordain family. The matriarch, Milo, was artist Marissa’s patron, providing her and her daughter Haley a place to live, but something is just not quite right with their relationship. And just like Marissa, her friend Gina Kemmer is not exactly who she seems to be. Then there are the men in Marissa’s life, including Steve Morgan, Milo’s husband Bruce, her son Darren, and his friend Mark who teaches at McAster College. The same detectives that worked the case in the first book – Tony Mendez, Cal Dixon, and their teams, with help from Vince Leone – set out to discover what happened to Marissa … and who she is.
The story is classic Hoag, giving the reader a list of suspects who all seem to have motive. Revelations are made timely, keeping the reader engaged. The ONLY problem I had with the book was the same one I had with the first. I love that the detectives have to rely on leg work, on interviews, on common sense and deduction, that they have no instamatic DNA testing or anything more high-tech than a fax machine. Behavioral analysis is in its infancy. My issue is when Det. Mendez comments repeatedly on how great police work will be when all these things are in place. When they will be able to access national fingerprint databases, and test hair follicles and blood and semen. He’s too prescient and it jolted me right out of the story, feeling like the author interjecting the thoughts rather than the character having them.
That is just a quibble, however, as the story kept me reading from beginning to end. I’m a huge Hoag fan. She’s an autobuy and has been since NIGHT SINS. It’s just the forced feel of the 1980s police work. It didn’t work for me – unlike the short lived US version of the British TV show LIFE ON MARS. That police drama was set in the 1970s and felt like it every step of the way, er, minus the main character, Sam Tyler, being from the future, LOL! Any time Sam would mention computers or DNA or databases, the rest of the officers would look at him like he was out of his mind (which he was, of sorts). Mendez gets some of that “what the hell are you talking about” from his co-workers, but IMO, his having said thoughts in the first place felt forced.
Still, I can totally recommend SECRETS TO THE GRAVE as a great read.
(I bought and read the Kindle version of this book.)