Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag
Mystery is probably my favourite genre ever. Naturally, through schooling and my own personal readings, crime stories draw me. I try to stay on the fictional side of mystery/crime novels, though, because I am also a scaredy-cat and will never leave the house otherwise.
Tami Hoag is probably one of my number 1 go-to mystery/suspense authors. I basically grab whatever she’s written and I can certainly say that she is never a disappointing read. She knows how to do mystery and she knows how to do suspense. Cold Cold Heart is no exception.
SPOILER ALERT: It is as this point that I must say: Cold Cold Heart is sort of a sequel to The 9th Girl. As such, this review will most likely spoil the ending for The 9th Girl as there are plot pieces that cannot avoid discussion. If you haven’t read The 9th Girl and plan to, READ NO FURTHER! If you don’t care, READ ON!
Dana Nolan is the last surviving victim of a serial killer, Doc Holiday. Along with her physical injuries, she is now suffering from a traumatic head injury. She is not the Dana Nolan that she or anyone else recognizes and remembers. Dana struggles being back at home with her mother and step-father and living in her home town where she was remembered as the pretty, young, and successful news anchor. Now she is seen as Doc Holiday wanted her to be seen: a zombie and his 9th victim. She’s gawked at, treated as a freak by some, and others see her as the news feature that will shoot them to stardom. Her brain injury makes her forgetful, unpredictable and sometimes unstable. In order to ground herself and find a focus, Dana becomes fixated on the disappearance of her best friend 7 years earlier; a cold case. As she digs deeper, Dana begins to draw the attention of those that simply do not want the case to be solved.
Tami Hoag is one of those authors that have clearly mastered the skill of suspense throughout her long writing career. Cold Cold Heart is a little different from her other books. While there is a bit of mystery and suspense, it really doesn’t start until about half-way through the novel. This novel is clearly focused on the topic of brain injuries. Two main characters suffer from brain injuries that result in different symptoms: one character from a war injury, and one from a vicious assault meant to kill. Readers see how this affects the individual, as the chapters switch points of view between these two characters. We are also thrown into how a traumatic brain injury, or any form of brain injury, can also affect family members or those in the role of caregiver. There is stress, uncertainty and above all, a need for acceptance; acceptance and a need for understanding that that particular individual may never be the same. The individual that one knew before the brain injury is no more. In essence they are the same person (DNA and general makeup), but their reactions and actions illustrate just how much an injury can create a different person. The main character, Dana, has gone from a controlled and ambitious young woman, to one that is angry, afraid and, with no other better way to say it, doesn’t have a filter. The other character is viewed as unstable and one that should be avoided as his anger can form into violence at any moment (but I would say that this character’s injury is more used as a discussion piece to show how others misinterpret and mistreat those with brain injuries). Hoag does a really good job in illustrating that while a brain injury does change a person, it should not make them a burden. This is increasingly becoming a topic that different forms of media are taking on (I believe the movie Concussion is coming out soon as well).
This is sort of a Kovac and Liska novel (my favourite Tami Hoag characters, btw); they make a small appearance as they were the lead detectives in the Doc Holiday case from The 9th Girl. Don’t read this novel if you are expecting a Kovac and Liska novel though; you might be disappointed because it is more of a cameo. This novel is more about Dana and her struggles in simply surviving. The mystery is still good and I do have to say that it is the first Hoag novel that I was able to figure out! This is quite stellar for me since I was beginning to wonder if it was even possible. Hoag is quite fabulous in steering the reader in one direction while unknowingly building the case against another character. She’s kind of like a magician with amazing slight of hand abilities. This is part of the reason why I keep coming back to Hoag. Her novels are just shocking. You generally don’t see it coming. While I can say that it is frustrating not being able to figure out the bad guy in a novel, it is also so much fun. Part of the draw in reading these novels is for the shock value; the ability to be surprised. And while I was right in who the culprit was, the character was really 1 of 2 people that I was suspicious of. It was still a good twist and it still made me bite my finger nails as the suspense built until the final chapter.
Hoag is gruesome, shocking and simply a fun read. She is a queen of suspense and mystery. I will continue to be drawn to her name. Cold Cold Heart was a great mystery, but it was also a great discussion regarding brain injuries, something I didn’t expect. Once again, hats off to Hoag.
Also exciting: Hoag’s next novel, The Bitter Season, is another Kovac and Liska story! Three in a row (yes, I’m counting Cold Cold Heart as one, as I simply love seeing these character no matter how small their role)? How will I ever contain myself!!