There is no question in my mind who the Queen of Suspense is; Tami Hoag writes thrillers that you can’t stop reading, but also can’t read alone (or at night) without a sharp object nearby just in case. I have read the first two novels in her series ‘Kovac and Liska’ (see links below for those blog posts) and they both blew my mind. With the final two books in the series under my belt, I find that my only disappointment is realizing I may never read about Sam Kovac or Nikki Liska again. Here are the last two novels following two of Minneapolis Homicide’s finest.
“Prior Bad Acts”
by Tami Hoag (March 21, 2006)
There are some crimes that are so brutal that they affect even the most hardened homicide cops. The Haas Murders left a scar on the community that nothing can erase. But putting the killer, Karl Dahl, behind bars will be a good start. But when Judge Carey Moore rules that Dahl’s prior bad acts are inadmissible in court it causes a public outcry and puts the judge in danger. When an unknown assailant attacks her in a parking garage, two of the city’s top cops, Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska are put on the case and put in charge of Judge Moore’s protection. There are three names at the top of Judge Moore’s long list of possible enemies: a rogue cop, a husband with a double life, and the family of the murder victims. When Karl Dahl escapes custody the case spins out of control and then Judge Moore is kidnapped, with police right outside. It is up to Kovac and Liska to see through the smoke and mirrors to save the day. Easier said than done, especially when everyone is guilty of prior bad acts.
I have become a devout fan of Tami Hoag and am completely in love with her ‘Kovac and Liska’ series. This third book was superb, as everything, I have read from her has been, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the first two books in this series. Her first book in this series “Ashes To Ashes” defined what a thriller should be (I couldn’t read it alone or at night) while the second book “Dust To Dust” featured in May’s Noteworthy Fiction list defined what a crime novel should be, full of compounding mysteries, lies, conspiracies and a story where you never knew who was one of the good guys and who was one of the bad. I finished this book quickly and even something that isn’t Hoag’s best is far better than the rest in this genre. I cared about the characters and needed to keep turning the pages to see how it would all play out. One reason it lagged behind was because the questions were too easy for me to get. In “Ashes To Ashes” I figured out who the killer was right away, but the immediacy made that point irrelevant and it was as agonizing as if I didn’t have a clue. In “Dust To Dust” I couldn’t sort anything out until the very end (and how Hoag pulled it all off without rushing anything still amazes me). This is a mystery I solved before the middle of the book and lacked the immediacy to make that point irrelevant.
One thing that makes this book stand apart from the others (in a great way) though is that this can be seen as a story about different kinds of killers. There is Karl Dahl who is deranged (as in mentally ill, not necessarily sadistic), a cop who has a mental breakdown and sets out to right the shortcomings of the justice system he believes has failed (an avenging angel type) and then a killer so cold, I wonder how many others will see it coming. The one thing all three killers have in common, however, is that killers are not born, they are made… You’ll need to read this book (and you should) to find out how!
“The 9th Girl”
by Tami Hoag (June 18, 2013)
Sam Kovac has seen more dead bodies than he can count: men, women, children; victims of shootings, stabbings, strangulations, beatings; fresh corpses and bodies that have been left for days in the trunks of cars in the dead of summer… but he has never seen anything quite like this…
In Minneapolis, on a frigid New Year’s Eve night, a young girl’s brutalized body falls into the path of oncoming traffic. Questions as to whether she was already dead or alive when she hit the pavement results in her being dubbed, Zombie Doe. Unidentified and unidentifiable, she is the ninth nameless female victim of the year and Sam Kovac and his partner, Nikki Liska, are charged with the task of not only finding out who Zombie Doe is, but who hated her enough to destroy her. Was it personal? A crime of opportunity? Their biggest fear is that she is the ninth victim of a vicious, transient serial killer they have come to call Doc Holiday.
Traveling across America’s heartland, Doc Holiday chooses his victims at random, snatching them in one city and leaving them in another, always on a holiday. If Zombie Doe is one of his victims, he has brought his gruesome game to a new and much more terrifying level. As Kovac and Liska begin to uncover the truth, however, they find that the monsters in their ninth girl’s life may have lived much closer to home. Even as another young woman disappears, they have to ask the question: Which is the greater evil – the devil you know or the devil you don’t?
This is a book I have waited months to read. I found it in the library a few months ago and felt the pull to read it. When I got home, however, I realized it was the fourth installment in a series, so I went back and read the other three in order, always eagerly anticipating when I would get to this book (this was the series that also introduced me to the wonderful Tami Hoag). I love the characters Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska. I have grown with them, watched them through the years of their careers and in a way they’re like family. This book is the first to really hit home in a new kind of way. Liska is a mother and when the victim turns out to be a friend of her son’s shit gets real – fast. Unlike previous books, this novel deals with so many elements that are finally getting some attention in recent years, such as cyberbullying and taking down Queen B’s – the B stands for beeyotch by the way…
Zombie Doe has so many people in her life who hated her and had both motive and opportunity – it seems like a safe bet real fast that she is not one of Doc Holiday’s victims, but when another girl is taken – it is Zombie Doe who points the way to the truth about who Doc Holiday is and why he has taken his most recent victim. Even though this book was excellent, I was originally only going to give a 4.5 rating, until I reached the last 40 pages of the book. The novel always made you want to push forward, gripped with questions, searching for answers and worrying about the fates of the people who hung in the balance of everything going on. Still, my rule is if I have to question whether something is a perfect five, then it is the next best thing. This novel didn’t hold up to the first two in the series, until I reached the point when the killer(s) were unmasked. I almost always figure out the who when it comes to mysteries and thrillers, but this book’s villain threw me and then some. I felt sick, horrified and pained as if someone had reached inside of me and was playing with my guts with sharp pointy nails. It brought chills, my breath caught in my chest and I didn’t know whether to throw the book across the room, yell out or cry. It was that kind of revelation. And when it comes to Doc Holiday… well, the end to that storyline was just as unexpected and absolutely perfect. All that needs to be said there is, “His eyes met the eyes of a zombie.” (Page 383)
I love Nikki Liska, and this book shows the struggles of being a single mother trying to provide for her kids and be there for them all at the same time. I have always seen a little of myself in her, her ‘I’m tiny, but tough as nails, don’t fuck with me’ attitude and her momma bear’s ferocity, but never more than I have in this book. My favorite scene (pages 128-129) that has nothing to do with killers or their victims, but her son in trouble for standing up to bully, is when I connected with her the most. What she said, how she handled the principal and her son – wow. It was exactly what I would have said and done – I mean verbatim. After I read it, I had my husband read it and he smiled, grinned and then laughed, pointed a finger at me and said, “It’s you!”
Part of me is very sad because this is the final Kovac and Liska novel and I am not ready to say goodbye to them. Maybe there will be another someday, but I am thinking this was it. This was a series that constantly delivered with characters who you laughed with, cried with, feared for – these were people that mattered. Who cares that they’re entirely fictional? While Hoag is the Queen of Suspense in my eyes and every single book in the series is utterly gripping, and chilling, it is Sam Kovac and Nikkia Liska that is the reason these books are above the rest – without exception. These are characters who you will make you feels things and feel for, and after all – isn’t that the point?
Read this book, but not before you read the rest of the series. (You’ll find the links to my blogs on the first two books in the series at the bottom of this post.)
When you read “The 9th Girl” remember to think of me and my future offspring when you get to the bullying scene on pages 128-129. Best response ever! 😉 You have to read these books because they’re the kind of books anyone can enjoy. For those who like thrillers, suspense and crime stories – here you go. And for everyone else, be prepared to meet two characters who by the end of the series will feel like old friends – the kind of characters you feel invested in.