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Book review: <i>Cold Cold Heart</i> by Tami Hoag

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the cover of the book

Dana Nolan is the sole survivor of Doc Holiday, a sexual sadist who she killed to escape. Returning to her hometown with a head injury is not what Dana had planned for her mid-twenties, but life in her small town gets interesting when she tries to solve a seven year old mystery which has been sitting in her subconscious and her injury has brought to the fore.

The story

Okay, so I gave away quite a lot of the story in the blurb. Dana Nolan, perky, twenty-four year old journalist with a dazzling future, is abducted from her car-port on her way to work. Her abductor is Doc Holiday, a serial killer whose man-hunt has been all over the news. Dana escapes, using sheer will and a bit of good luck, but she’s far from unscathed. She is physically scarred and has difficulty with the slightest task thanks to the head injury she sustained. Making connections between thoughts, words, and actions is difficult, and remembering things is incredibly trying.

After gruelling rehabilitation, Dana returns to her hometown with her mother and stepfather, Richard. In her childhood home, Dana tries to connect with her past, latching on to things she remembers and encouraging pieces of her past to come back to her. She battles with the discrepancy between the Dana she used to be and the Dana she is now. She’s having to change her entire life plan, and observing the people she’s closest to is bring back surprising recollections. She also runs into some people from her past; her police officer high-school boyfriend Tim, and the damaged high-school boyfriend of her best friend, Casey.

Casey disappeared one day when the girls were seventeen, and the mystery weighed heavily on Dana back then, but even more heavily now as she tries to remember through her damaged brain. She’s intent on solving the seven year old mystery, but someone in town is even more determined not to have the mystery solved. Will Dana’s luck run out before she can uncover the killer?

The style

Tami Hoag writes like a paint-by-numbers thriller writer. I’ve read her before, she’s a classic in airport bookstores. Paint-by-numbers American thrillers are, for those who don’t know me, not really my cup of tea. I like something a bit different, my preference being either something with a bit of European flair or something stylistically unique (or both. Let’s be honest, my preference is both). So we’re starting at a disadvantage there. With that statement out of the way, let’s review the story.

The storyline is fairly standard, but for one thing. If there are only seven plots in the world then the only way to make them standout is using a distinct style or adding a unique element, and Hoag saves herself with Dana’s head injury. Hoag has clearly researched the effects of a head injury, and I found that component of the book really interesting. The main character, Dana, was great, because her struggle with recovering from/living with a head injury added a dimension to the story that would otherwise have been pretty run-of-the-mill. Also, Hoag wrote Dana to be very deliberately three dimensional. I appreciated her character and struggle, and the aspects of her that were weak or mean or human. The journey Dana goes on internally and with her family seems very realistic and well thought out, particularly Lynda, Dana’s mother.

On the other hand, some of the other characters are two dimensional stereotypes. Which is fine, but I felt like they could have been better developed. As the story was being told mainly in the third person limited, this stereotyping could be passed off as an analysis of these characters by Dana, but she struck me as more astute than she is allowed by the narrative. This leads on to my other observation, which was, from the lofty heights of someone who is NOT a famous best-selling author and is clearly not doing therefore teaching, I felt like there was too much telling and not enough showing. Some of the writing could have been more interesting, and I KNOW it could have! The story had GOOD BONES and that bonus brain injury business! So I found that a bit frustrating, as though the writing was rushed or something. That’s my two cents.

Who is this book for?

Like Tami Hoag? Well. This is by her, so I’m sure you won’t go wrong. I’m not going to lie, as I said above, this isn’t really my jam. But if you’re into the pulp thrillers, buy it at one of the airport stores on your way to the plane, you could easily knock it off.

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In short

Title: Cold Cold Heart
Author: Tami Hoag
Publisher: Dutton
ISBN: 0525954546
Year published: 2015
Pages: 368
Genre(s): Thriller, Crime fiction
Review Type: