Author: Tami Hoag
My first Tami Hoag book and there was no problem picking up with the fourth book in the series. Modern family dynamics and school bullying are exposed in this offering around a young girl's brutal murder.
Copyright: April 2013 (Dutton Adult) 417 pgs
Series: 4th in Kovac/Liska Investigation series
Sensuality: violence, language
Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural
Main Characters: Police Detectives Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac
Setting: Modern day, Minneapolis
Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review
It is a cold New Year's Eve as party-goers are clogging traffic. In the middle of traffic a car hits a pothole, its trunk springs open and out tumbles the body of horribly mutilated girl - forever traumatizing the driver in the stretch Hummer who plows into her. Because the young girl's face has been eaten away with acid, she is quickly dubbed "Zombie Doe" with her resemblance to a zombie's horrific face becoming fodder for sensational news. Besides finding out her identity, the immediate question becomes, is this the ninth victim of Doc Holiday. Doc Holiday is a notorious Midwestern serial killer who mutilates and murders young female victims on holidays. Once Liska and Kovac check all high schools for any absent students, they begin to piece together who the girl was. Penny Gray, a troubled yet talented girl who was still reeling from her father's death after battling cancer. Penny (known simply as "Gray") attended the same exclusive school, Performance Scholastic Institute, "a prestigious private school for academically and artistically gifted students," as Liska's son Kyle. Positive identification takes a while since her remains are in such bad shape, but they investigate her life and find the estranged mother Julia is engaged to Penny's prior therapist Michael Warner. Michael's seemingly picture perfect daughter Christina also attends PSI and had a volatile relationship with Gray including an altercation the night she was last seen alive.
The investigation becomes two pronged, the majority of the resources headed by Kovac are proceeding as though "Gray" is the ninth victim of Doc Holiday, while Liska and one other agent dig into Gray's sad existence to see if somebody who knew her brutally murdered her. The school apparently has a bad case of bullying and the storyline goes into the nightmare for kids caught in that torture. Kyle, Nikki Liska's fifteen-year-old son, gets several chapters from his point of view showing the brutality of the teen bullying. There are a few brief sections from Doc Holiday's viewpoint as well.
There is a lot of character development for Nikki with her home life. Nikki Liska is a single mom trying to balance a time-intensive and emotionally demanding job with raising two teen boys. She is a deeply caring police officer, but the home pressures with Kyle are nearly breaking her. Sam Kovac (nicknamed Kojak) is a policeman married to his job whose family is his fellow officers. He could easily become too jaded and stereotypical, but manages to remain caring, but caustic. Kyle is an introverted teen trying to do what is right while being the recipient of bullying. His character provides insight into the vicious cycle of bullying. Penny Gray, our troubled teen and promising poet victim has a powerful presence in the story and the reader comes to know and care about her postmortem. Sonya Porter, hip blogger to youth and freelance journalist is the niece of a police detective and the breakout character. She is utilized to reach the teens and try to get information through social media and contacts about the victim. Sonya was so interesting that I hope she is featured in another book, or even stars in her own novel.
Minneapolis and Performance Scholastic Institute are each brought to life with just enough good and bad. The story didn't really get interesting for awhile as the investigation was mired down with Nikki's personal life. Perhaps the teen drama could have been trimmed down a little to keep the pacing up. Although the teen angst was somewhat insightful, those sections tended to interrupt the flow just as I was beginning to get drawn into the case. I thought I had the killer figured out, but a twist at the end totally caught me off guard. Kudos there. There are essentially two climatic conclusions for the two storylines. Both exciting and satisfying.
Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list if you haven't already.