There's something rotten in the state of Oak Knoll. Two books into Tami Hoag's newest series and I wonder why anyone would ever want to live in the so-called idyllic Oak Knoll, California, home of too many killers to count. If it were a real town, I would wonder if it was the town that created the killers or if there was something about the town that attracted them. Either way, the Oak Knoll Sheriff's Department needs an upgrade STAT.
Secrets to the Grave takes place a little over a year after the end of Deeper Than the Dead, and while this book could technically be read as a standalone novel, it would be best if you read it following the first book.
In Secrets to the Grave, Anne Navarre (now Leone) and her husband Vince are back, as are several of the other characters from the last book, including Tony Mendez, who I would love to see in more of a leading role in future books. The action in this book mainly surrounds 4 year old Haley Fordham, whose mother was found murdered in the first few pages. Because she had no family to speak of, Haley ends up staying with Anne and Vince despite the pleadings of Maureen Upchurch, Haley's social services case worker, and Milo Bordain, Haley's stand-in grandmother.
Secrets to the Grave is an engrossing read, but I had trouble with some aspects of the book. First of all, I figured out the killer fairly early on in the novel, and while at times I had my doubts as to the identity of the killer, I was nowhere near as surprised as the characters were when the killer was revealed.
My second issue, is probably more of a time period issue than it is an issue with the book itself, but the fact is I am reading this book in 2012 not 1986 and I can't see things out of a 26 year old lens. My issue of course has to do with the treatment of gay characters in the novel. Of course they were written in as possible killers and of course we were supposed to think of them as the killer because they were closeted gay men. Each time one of the character brought up the gay angle, I wanted to bang my head against something. That said, it was interesting in an anthropological/sociological way to see how people in 1986 thought and how much of that hasn't changed in the last twenty-six years. We like to think that we have become more open-minded about these things, but the fact is that many people in this country would rather see them as killers because of their gayness. But, I digress...
My final issue with this book and with Deeper Than the Dead was the representation of Dennis Farman. If you have read Deeper Than the Dead, you know that Dennis was the abused son of s psychotic sheriff's detective, and who attempted to murder two of his classmates. My problem with this is really about the way every character thought about him. Everyone, excluding Anne--at least up until a certain point, believed that Dennis was broken and that there was nothing they could have done for him. Honestly, Dennis could have been used as the perfect example of the sociological theory that claims that if we don't bond with someone--hopefully a parent--by the age of 8, we're doomed to a life of lawlessness and inadequacy. Personally, I find that theory dismal and I do not subscribe to it. Unfortunately, whether Ms. Hoag knows it or not, she seems to, at least when it comes to characters in her novels.
I gave this book a three star review despite the issues I had with it because it was a very entertaining read. Ms. Hoag's prose had me hooked from the beginning and that says a lot. I could have given up on this book several times because of the problems I had with it, but I didn't. There were a couple of reasons why. First was Ms. Hoag's narrative style. Second was that I cared about the characters. That might say more about Deeper Than the Dead than it does for Secrets to the Grave (because most of the main characters were introduced in that book), but what can I say.