Deeper Than The Dead
Pros: Fairly suspenseful “who done it”
Cons: Use your discretion! Some silliness regarding the time period.
Gotta give Tami Hoag credit. She tried something “different” with Deeper Than The Dead. Writing a book in the murder mystery/thriller genre, but setting it in the 80’s so that modern-day forensic tools and technologies don’t exist was a pretty nifty idea. Did it work out? Somewhat.
It’s the 80’s in a small town, and life is good. Until the day when four fifth-graders stumbled upon a partially-buried dead body. From the condition of the body it was very clear that the woman was tortured – brutalized, really – prior to her death. Police are called in, and a little research eventually reveals that there were other deaths in the past with the same pattern. There’s a serial killer on the loose.
It’s the 80’s. The forensic tool of “profiling” is in its infancy. Most of the small-town cops see the concept as nothing more than “guess work”. As for as they’re concerned, it’s a bunch of hokum. But FBI agent Vince Leone is a pioneer in the field. Reluctantly, the investigators turn to him for help.
Vince does his thing – coming up with a general profile for their probable killer. Meanwhile, the four children are traumatized and dealing with their own issues – both at home and at school. And their teacher Miss Navarre is beside herself trying to figure out how to help them cope. Especially as the body count starts to rise.
There you have it – the general premise. A serial killer on the loose, while a town is terrorized.
The first thing I wondered, when I found out that Ms. Hoag set the story in the 80’s was – how is that any different than just picking up a book that was actually written in the 80’s? Well, here’s how: Ms. Hoag never lets us forget that the book was written in the present day. Her characters are far more prescient than folks really were, back then. For instance, when reading a book written in the 80’s, the characters don’t talk about how “Someday there will be machines that will hold all of the fingerprints in a file, and matches will be done automatically in minutes, instead of us having to look at them to match them“. Or, “Someday each of us will have a computer on our desk, and those computers will be able to communicate with each other, but for now, we have to write stuff down and use the photocopy machine to share information” or “Someday, we’ll be able to use DNA matching to determine who left that piece of skin behind, but for now, we’ll collect it, but not know what to do with it“. Ok, these are not actual direct quotes from the book, but that was the sentiment. The folks in Deeper Than The Dead spent a lot of time wistfully thinking about how great forensic tools will be in the future, with dead-on accuracy.
Did this help make the book interesting, or make it seem a bit like a parody? A bit of both. It was interesting to remember how old-fashioned police work was done. Hitting the pavement, putting in the hours, following the clues. No short-cuts. No cell phones, Internet, email, or national crime databases to help you out. But the characters discussing the wonderful future world that will someday exist – that was just silly. Folks in the 80’s just didn’t talk like that. I know. I was there.
Beyond this, the story is your basic serial killer story, with some very disturbing violence and torture. While we are spared from reading the details as they happen, we understand the aftermath. And the level of torture these women went through is – believe me – brutal. Some of the worst I’ve read. Use discretion before deciding to read this book!
Along the same vein, there is a LOT of child abuse in this book. In many different forms. Again, use discretion.
Beyond the cautions, Deeper Than The Dead is a decent serial killer novel, with some nice surprises along the way. Many possible suspects to keep you guessing. And, yes, the seems-to-be-obligatory romance tossed in. 3 stars, and a non-recommendation.
Also by Tami Hoag