Review: Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag

21 Dec

Secrets to the GraveMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, calling this book a fun read, or an entertaining one doesn’t quite send the right message. It’s a compelling mystery, with some great characters. It’s also quite disturbing, deliberately so.

Summary via

Marissa Fordham had a past full of secrets, a present full of lies. Everyone knew of her, but no one knew her.

When Marissa is found brutally murdered, with her young daughter, Haley, resting her head on her mother’s bloody breast, she sends the idyllic California town of Oak Knoll into a tailspin. Already on edge with the upcoming trial of the See- No-Evil killer, residents are shocked by reports of the crime scene, which might not have been discovered for days had it not been for a chilling 911 call: a small child’s voice saying, “My daddy hurt my mommy.”

Sheriff’s detective Tony Mendez faces a puzzle with nothing but pieces that won’t fit. To assist with his witness, Haley, he calls teacher-turned-child advocate Anne Leone. Anne’s life is hectic enough-she’s a newlywed and a part- time student in child psychology, and she’s the star witness in the See-No-Evil trial. But one look at Haley, alone and terrified, and Anne’s heart is stolen.

As Tony and Anne begin to peel back the layers of Marissa Fordham’s life, they find a clue fragment here, another there. And just when it seems Marissa has taken her secrets to the grave, they uncover a fact that puts Anne and Haley directly in the sights of a killer: Marissa Fordham never existed.

Secrets to the Grave looks at several aspects of violence, starting with an extremely brutal murder of a young mother, and the attempted murder of her 4 year old child. Several other characters are brutally attacked, some characters are living with the results of previous violence– some recent, some from childhood long past.

I started to list all the characters I liked, but decided not to bother. The book is full of generally likable but interesting people. If Vince and Anne walk a little too close to the too good to be true line, they have enough personality and struggles to keep them worth reading about.

The children are a large part of what makes the book interesting and disturbing. Disturbing, due to what 4 year old Haley has been through; disturbing, due to what 12 year old Dennis has done, and even more, what he’d like to do. Again, each is an intriguing character on their own (well, as much so as a realistic 4 year old can be), and they way they work into the events of the story builds on that.

The supporting cast of police officers and suspects and other people of interest were varied in situation and personality. I admit to having some trouble keeping track of the names of some of the characters– I think this is my weakness, and it is one that came back to bite me toward the end of the book. Until then, I could keep the characters straight by context, but a few references at the end left me with the sinking feeling that I wasn’t quite sure who was being referred to. I’d recommend paying closer attention that I did to this aspect.

Another detail of this story that interested me was the choice of setting it in the 1980s. I occasionally wondered if the only reason for this decision was to avoid computers and cell phones. Mostly, it didn’t matter, but occasionally it seemed like the author was winking at the readers, about things we know or take for granted, but which weren’t yet part of the lives of these characters. In addition, there were a couple of points where I was pulled out of my reading, wondering if this or that detail was authentic to the time period. Probably they were but it still disrupted my reading to think about it.

If you like a violent but thoughtful mystery with well thought out characters, check out this book.

Secrets to the Grave will be released on December 28. I read it as part of a TLC Book Tour. Thank you to Lisa for the chance to participate!

For other opinions of the book, check out the other tour stops:

1 Comment

Posted by on December 21, 2010 in books, reviews, tour


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One response to “Review: Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag

  1. Marce

    December 21, 2010 at 7:34 am

    That sounds so me, love the detail you included in your review, adding to Wishlist for 2011.

    I have the same weakness when reading a lot of characters, your not alone.


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