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Down the Darkest Road: Oak Knoll    by Tami Hoag order for
Down the Darkest Road
by Tami Hoag
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tami Hoag continues her outstanding Oak Knoll series of chillers (set in a sleepy little California community that suffers more than its fair share of serial killers) with Down the Darkest Road.

The first book, Deeper Than the Dead, introduced an empathetic teacher with deep psychological insights, Anne Navarre. She helped children dealing with horror, including Wendy Morgan. That story also introduced FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit legend Vince Leone and local Sheriff's Detective Tony Mendez (a young profiler-in-the-making), who combined to form a team to be reckoned with. Anne and Vince married and, in Secrets to the Grave, adopted young Haley who saw her mother's murder. All these people play their parts to enrich Down the Darkest Road.

At the heart of this new thriller is Lauren Lawton, a desperate woman at the very end of a fast fraying rope. Her once perfect family life in Santa Barbara was destroyed by her elder daughter's disappearance four years before, followed by her husband's suicide. Roland Ballencoa, a 'class-A perv' whom she believes killed sixteen year-old Leslie, continued to stalk the family. The police could do nothing and Ballencoa even obtained a restraining order against Lauren, who now drinks too much and has a gun. She has just moved with her younger daughter Leah to Oak Knoll. Unbeknownst to her mother, Leah handles her own guilt and grief by cutting herself. They both badly need help.

In Oak Knoll, Leah's friendship with Wendy brings her mother into Anne Navarre's orbit. Then, after Lauren spots Ballencoa in Oak Knoll, her erratic behavior brings her to the notice of Tony Mendez, who feels for her plight (but is also concerned about what action she might take) and starts to dig. He contacts the lead investigator in Santa Barbara, a young, foul-mouthed female cop named Danni Tanner, and an attraction of opposites develops as they work the case together. Of course he also seeks help from his mentor, Vince. While all this goes on a series of break-ins continue in Oak Knoll, and Greg Hewitt, a PI whom Lauren hired in Santa Barbara shows up to offer further help.

It turns out that Lauren has long-laid plans, but so does a predator. As suspense builds to a violent, heart-stopping finale, Tami Hoag throws in plenty of surprises for both cops and victims. At one point, Lauren quotes Winston Churchill saying, 'If you're going through hell, keep going.' This devastated mother and daughter do indeed go through hell in Down the Darkest Road, and Hoag's Oak Knoll series only gets better with each new book. Highly recommended!

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