Secrets to the Grave is the second in the Deeper than Dead series (which began with a book of that title; I read it exactly one year ago–January 2010). In this book, Hoag continues the story of Anne and Vince and their motley circle of friends and colleagues.
Overview (taken from author’s website):
“She lay discarded like a life-sized broken doll—made up, torn up, and cast aside, her brown eyes cloudy and lifeless.”
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, her young daughter, Haley, with her head on her mother’s bloody breast, this mystery woman 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 at reports of the crime scene, which might not have been discovered for days but for a chilling 911 call: a small child’s voice saying, “My daddy hurt my mommy.”
The police face a puzzle with nothing but pieces that won’t fit. To assist with their only witness, four-year-old Haley, they call 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 Anne, her FBI profiler husband, Vince, and local sheriff’s deputy, Tony Mendez, 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 at all.
I like mysteries, and I really like police characters. The ones in this series range from the FBI to the small town and cover most of the bases! I enjoyed them all. I also liked that the setting was 1986: no cell phones, no DNA, no super forensics of any kind (as the author explains in an introductory note). Despite that, the book had a very contemporary feel (in that it was written like contemporary mysteries in terms of tone, characters, etc.). I don’t know how else to explain it. I know Sue Grafton has Kinsey Millhone set perpetually in the 1980s, and I like those mysteries, but they always feel a bit old-fashioned to me (people being disowned, cold cases being investigated, etc.). This did not. I had to tell myself several times that it was 1986: no DNA!
I expected this book to focus on some of the peripheral characters from the first novel, and while we certainly got to know a few better and the groundwork was laid for a future romance, this one really focuses on Anne and Vince again (Anne more so). Usually after characters get married and have their “happily ever after,” they are relegated to the sidelines. Not this couple! I like that Anne is a stronger character than I expected. In the last book, she was a victim. In this, she is no one’s victim. Despite being attacked at one point, Anne is not portrayed as fragile or helpless (even if Vince would like her to be). I did figure out the mystery before the main characters (60% mark?), but the character interaction and development held my interest. I will watch for the next one.