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by Tami Hoag
Dutton, December 2011
448 pages
ISBN: 052595239X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

DOWN THE DARKEST ROAD begins with a journal entry by a woman, Lauren Lawton, who seems seriously distraught. She remembers her past life as though it were a beautiful fairy tale, but one that has been forever lost. Before Lauren's teenage daughter Leslie disappeared four years ago, Lauren had an enviable life. She lived in affluent Santa Barbara with a great husband and two lovely daughters, Leslie and Leah. But after her oldest daughter went missing, presumed the victim of a horrible crime, her life fell apart. Her husband was killed in a car accident and her relationship with Leah became strained. The police could find no evidence leading to the convicted molester, Roland Ballencoa, who Lauren was sure was the culprit. Her dogged pursuit of this person leads the police to discount her as a crazy lady and leads Ballencoa to bring a lawsuit against her.

The author is concerned about showing us a time before DNA evidence became routine and how difficult it was to pursue a lead without this scientific data. A little blood found at a scene is useless, and the detectives are frustrated that no computerized data bank exists for tracing fingerprints. It is interesting for the reader to contemplate a very recent period in our history when technologies that we take for granted today did not exist or were just emerging.

As this thriller opens, Lauren has moved to another town, Oak Knoll. She starts to see Ballencoa and believes he is stalking her. The police in Santa Barbara had begun treating her as a nutcase, but the cop she meets in Oak Knoll, Tony Mendez, takes her concerns seriously. He searches for Ballencoa and discovers that he has indeed moved to Oak Knoll. Meanwhile, Lauren carries her dead husband's gun in her purse and fantasizes about using it on Ballencoa, who is pursuing his avocation in her new town. He photographs young women and follows them. Keeping meticulous notes, he waits until they are away and then enters their homes. Once inside, he does perverted things with their underwear and bedclothes. The reader has no doubt that he is a sick one, but whether or not he actually kidnapped and killed Leslie is not as clear.

The narrative is interrupted at various points by Lauren's journaling, where she describes what has happened in her life and what she feels about it. She comes across as someone who is basically good but cannot handle the rough curves life has thrown her. She is in sharp contrast to a woman therapist she meets in OK, Anne Leone, who has also been the victim of a horrific crime, but has found a way to be happy and have a good life.

As Ballencoa reappears in her life, the intrusion and violence escalate. All Lauren wants to do is protect her remaining daughter and be there for her, but that goal is seriously challenged, both by her own inability to move on and by the actions of Ballencoa. There are a couple of twists near the end of the book that escalate the peril for Lauren and Leah, but DOWN THE DARKEST ROAD leaves you with the sense that light may return at the end of the darkness.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, February 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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