"Once upon a time I had the perfect family. I had the perfect husband. I had the perfect children. I had the perfect life in the perfect home. And then, as in all fairy tales, evil came into our lives and destroyed us. . ."Four years after the unsolved disappearance of her sixteen-year-old daughter, Lauren Lawton is the only one still chasing the ghosts of her perfect Santa Barbara life. The world has given her daughter up for dead. Her husband ended his own life in the aftermath. Even Lauren's younger daughter is desperate to find what's left of the childhood she hasn't been allowed to have.Lauren knows exactly who took her oldest child, but there is not a shred of evidence against the man. Even as he stalks her family, Lauren is powerless to stop him. The Santa Barbara police are handcuffed by the very laws they are sworn to uphold. Looking for a fresh start in a town with no memories, Lauren and her younger daughter Leah move to idyllic Oak Knoll.But when Lauren's suspect turns up in the same city, it feels to all the world that history is about to repeat itself. Leah Lawton will soon turn sixteen, and Oak Knoll has a cunning predator on the hunt.
I absolutely loved this book even though it was completely heart wrenching. It's been a while since I have read anything by Tami Hoag and I felt like slapping myself for it, needless to say that I shall get my backside into gear. I've now realised that there were two books prior to this one with the first being 'Deeper than the Dead' and the second, 'Secrets to the Grave'. All I know is that I'm thankful it can be read as a stand alone. Vince Leone, an FBI agent and Tony Mendez, a detective - who is one of the main characters in 'Down the Darkest Road', make appearances in all three.
I know I won't be the only one who will read or has read this book, to think or even try to imagine what it must be like for parents to lose a child, in any manner. This book affected me in more ways than one and although the story was different, the end result was the same. I personally haven't experienced the loss of a child and hope to God that I never do, but my neighbours have. Having offered as much support as is possible in a situation such as this, I have seen and experienced first hand how acts of pure unnecessary evil can and continues to leave a gaping hole and permanent scar within a family. It's heart wrenching. Some families, however much they try, aren't strong enough or don't have a support structure much as Lauren Lawton didn't have. My neighbours, bless them, had a support structure and are still holding strong - as strong as is God's will. So, as I sit here with tears in my eyes, I can only but smile at Ryan, letting him know he will never be forgotten - for he hasn't really left, he is only but in the next room.
Lauren Lawton's family is torn apart when her 16 year old daughter, Leslie, goes missing. Not only do Lauren and Lance lose a daughter, but 12 year old Leah, loses a sister. Lance, unable to bear the loss tragically ends his life by driving off a mountain. As far as Lauren and Leah, separately, are concerned, he took the easy way out. Although she will always love him, Lauren can never forgive him for this. She knows who is responsible for Leslie's disappearance, but nothing could and still cannot be proven. Technology as we know it today, was still unavailable in the 80's. She knows it's Roland Ballencoa, she's told the police it's him, but without proof he can't be charged. He's good though, and has had years of practice. He leaves nothing to chance making it that much more difficult to pin anything, however minute on him.
Deciding that she and Leah need a change from Santa Barbara, they move to Oak Knoll, a town with a high college prescence, and stay at the girls' godparents' house. At the supermarket one day Lauren thinks she sees Ballencoa - could be her imagination, maybe she's just gone crazy or is exhausted beyond belief - and rams her trolley into that of Tony Mendez. Rushing out in order to see if it's really Ballencoa, with Tony Mendez in pursuit and unbeknowst to Lauren, she proceeds to drive dangerously. Tony stops her, not really for the way she was driving, but for the fact that what he witnessed inside of the supermarket, peaked his curiosity. After speaking with Lauren, he decides to learn more about the case, and if a predator of young girls has indeed moved into his town.
Periodically throughout the story, Lauren is writing her own book relating to the events that led to the night in question including her feelings of helplessness and ignorance as a mother to Leah. The parts that really got my hackels up in this story were those between Lauren and Leah. Lauren gave birth to two daughters, not one. Yes, Leslie is missing, has been missing for four years, but, Leah is still very much alive. She needs her mother, now probably more than ever. She has suffered as much of a tragedy and true to teenage angst, drugs or self mutilation are ways to stop the pain, if only for a while. Covering pain with pain is never a solution. It's truly a story that has many facets which both left me sympathising with Lauren, or wanting to shake some sense in to her at the same time regarding Leah.
A cast of interesting characters are mixed and varied in this story with one of my favourites being Danni Tanner. She comes equipped with quite a foul mouth, yet despite this, she didn't come across as simply disgusting. Sometimes, it's necessary. The vibe I got throughout the book eludes to a love interest in a future book between Danni and Tony, although at the beginning I somehow thought it would be Lauren and Tony. Tony Mendez is one of the good guys and it always shows.
As for the perp, that he unfortunately got away with what he was doing for so many years is disgusting. That a thing such as him had the gall to lay complaints against the police for harrassment and Lauren for stalking, had to be the most frustrating thing ever and although technology has evolved in leaps and bounds, its still very much evident in today's society that a lot of criminals can and do get away with most things whether due to insufficent evidence, or proper evidence gathering at crime scenes. Innocent until proven guilty is all well and good, but what about those that are truly guilty, yet are free to roam, further committing heinous crime after heinous crime, until such time as they are proven guilty? This said, it's a catch 22, caught between a rock and a hard place. I would hate for an innocent person to be locked up as if they are guilty until such time as they are proven innocent. Tough situation, one always open for debate (and no, I am not inviting such a debate) and it has happened, numerous times.
A book worth my time, and yours.
RATING: 5 STARS
RATING: 5 STARS