It is 1985, and except for the torment from class bully Dennis Farnum, fifth graders Tommy Crane and Wendy Nolan are enjoying idyllic childhoods in a pleasant coastal California town. Their innocent existence is suddenly shattered when they stumble upon a half-buried body while running from Dennis on their way home from school. When an investigating officer suspects that the corpse might be the victim of a serial killer, he calls a friend in the FBI’s newly formed Behavioral Services Unit for advice. Housed several floors below FBI headquarters, the unit is called “Deeper than the Dead” because of new technologies, including profiling and DNA testing that are being developed there. Receiving the call from his friend, pioneer criminal profiler, Vince Leone, decides to visit the bucolic California town to offer his assistance since he’s on medical leave after being shot. When he arrives in Oak Knoll, Vince finds that life in the small town is not what it appears to be on the surface. Not only is there a serial killer, but the so-called pillars of the community head tragically dysfunctional families. His meeting and falling in love with 5th grade teacher Anne Navarre, turns from a dream to a nightmare as he discovers that she’s become the killer’s next intended victim.
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It’s intriguing to read a seemingly contemporary police procedural mystery thriller that doesn’t use the tools of modern forensics. Because the action takes place in 1985 those technologies had not been fully developed, and I caught myself thinking, “Why don’t they …?” before remembering that they didn’t know about that in 1985. The story is also interesting because it reads like a study in sociology. It points out that serial killing is not just an urban event, but can occur in even the most peaceful rural settings. It reinforces the idea that nobody knows what’s going on in anyone else’s home.
While the families appear to be perfect, they are extremely dysfunctional and any one of them could have spawned a serial killer. Hoag sends a powerful reminder that children who are exposed to abuse often resort to brutality and cruelty to others. However, she presents a very absorbing and appealing story by tempering the violence of the killings and the children’s suffering with the positive possibility of Vince and Anne’s romantic future.
Deeper than the Dead
by Tami Hoag
Read by Kirsten Potter
Random House Audio, unabridged: 14 hours on 11 CDs