Ashes to Ashes

Guilty As Sin

A Thin Dark Line

Dust to Dust by Tami Hoag
(Bantam, $25.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-10634-1
Fans who have followed Tami Hoag from her first Bantam Loveswepts through romantic suspense to her emergence as a hardcover bestseller should be warned up front that there is nothing romantic about her latest thriller, Dust to Dust. That having been said, this a very good suspense novel.

Minneapolis detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska are called to the scene of a violent death. The victim is one of their own, Internal Affairs detective Andy Fallon. All indications at the scene suggest that Andy’s death was a suicide or an unhappy accident during an episode of autoerotic stimulation. The word “sorry” on the mirror in front of the hanging body suggests the former; the fact that Andy is a gay man who has recently come out of the closet gives credence to the latter.

The case is closed with remarkable speed, with the ruling of accidental death. The police department and its media star Captain Ace Wyatt move quickly for two reasons. Andy was one of their own, but more significantly, his father, Mike Fallon, is a legend in the Minneapolis PD.

Mike Fallon was a cop’s cop until a fateful night twenty years ago when he was shot attempting to come to the rescue of one of his fellow officers. Since that time, he has been in a wheelchair. The cop who saved Mike’s life was Ace Wyatt who has parlayed his reputation and experiences into a career as a TV personality. His show on crime prevention is about to go national, but he still has enough influence in the department to insure that Andy’s death is handled quickly and quietly.

Sam and Nikki are less convinced of the verdict. They begin to dig into the case Andy was working on before his death, a case dealing with the murder of another gay cop and a possible cover-up. This brings Sam into contact with Andy’s boss, Lieutenant Amanda Savard, a woman with her own secrets whose vulnerability behind her tough exterior attracts the rugged detective.

Then, there is another death and an attempted murder and both Sam and Nikki find themselves in danger. But despite official objections and personal danger, neither is willing to give up the search for justice. In their minds, they work for the victim, not the department or the city.

What makes Dust to Dust such a good read is not just the suspense. What Hoag excels at is creating great characters and recreating the gritty reality of modern police work.

Sam Kovac, in his forties, is a man without illusions, a man whose devotion to his dangerous job has cost him two wives, who lives for his work and is very, very good at it. His partner, Nikki, is a decade younger. A single mother of two boys, divorced from their cop father because of his irresponsibility and his roving eye, she is every bit as tough as any guy in the department. Yet Hoag also shows her loneliness and vulnerability. These are good cops.

Equally well drawn are the secondary characters, both good and bad. All come alive for the reader. I have read my share of thrillers and it strikes me that when authors like Hoag move to mainstream suspense, they take with them the sensibility they developed as romance authors. Their characters - even their villains (and there are more than a few in Dust to Dust) - seem more fully human than is often the case in other thrillers. And, for this reader at least, it is the characters who carry the book. Which is not to say that Hoag doesn’t do a great job with the plot. It is fast-paced, intricate, and compelling. But it is Hoag’s characterizations which make this such a good book.

If you are looking for the conventions of romance, don’t read this book. It left me in tears. But if you are looking for a very well done police thriller with a compelling plot and great characters, you will enjoy Dust to Dust.

--Jean Mason

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