As opposed to Michael Connely's ECHO PARK ** (the last murder mystery I read), Tami Hoag's DUST TO DUST exhibits the writing of a woman's human touch. Hoag fleshes out her protagonists' personal lives (Kovac and Liska), the history and lives of those characters involved with the crimes all interconnect (Savard, Wyatt, Andy & Mike Fallon, Thorne), and an element of love factors into the crimes. Hoag demonstrates a knack for setting the scene in Minnesota surpassing Connelly's ECHO PARK and her prose also seems to follow at a higher level. Although Hoag seems comfortable writing 44 year-old Detective Sam Kovac and he bears many similarities to Connelly's Harry Bosch (married to the job, old, lonely, bulldog-like after a mystery), I liked Connelly's Bosch much better. Connelly spares us the repeated reminders of his protagonist's loneliness -- quit whining and do something about it already if you want someone in your life, Kovac! I can't say I enjoyed DUST TO DUST as the human element here stunts the mystery and suspense (Connely built the suspense and mystery much better). With the exception of bailing out Kovac in near-death situations more than once, Liska's character and angle in this book with the Curtis case seemed extraneous. Kovac's partner 32 year-old single mom Nikki "Tinks" Liska resembled the token kick-butt chick archetype who simply doesn't need anyone's help like Kovac needs her constant help. Liska even disposes of an iron-pumped 200-pound-plus baddie at the end mostly by herself. The final chapter shifts between Kovac and Liska in short passages and it was a little melodramatic, trying to inappropriately add tension and action to a book mostly about tortured characters disbelievingly all interconnected by circumstance and tragedy. The book never really grips until we read a tortured Amanda Savard's perspective more than 120 pages into this 354-page hardcover. And then of course we don't really hear much from Savard afterwards as the book prepares for a very sad denouement. Although I have to admire Hoag for the markedly sad ending, I don't have to like it. The lack of an engaging suspense and mystery confounds my problems with the novel.
Hoag lingers on her characters' loneliness quite a bit, and I found it tiring. A humor which clearly aims to shroud hidden vulnerabilities -- especially tough-chick humor from Liska -- didn't help the reading experience. Thirty-two year-old single mom Nikki Liska obviously finds herself still attracted to her cheating ex-husband. Despite her tough-chick demeanor, ASHES TO ASHES repeatedly mentions Liska's vulnerability and of course she dons an insensate exterior around her gorgeous ex-husband Speed to discourage him. The book reminds us again and again that Liska's 44 year-old partner Sam Kovac is lonely, only having an estranged daughter to show for his two failed marriages. An older, retired cop's desolate solitude (Mike Fallon) magnifies Kovac's loneliness and he sees himself in the bitter, lonely Mike Fallon down the line: alone at home, sitting in front of a tv and eating a tv dinner. Kovac wallows in self-pity and loneliness quite a bit, even after his involvement with Savard. Okay we get it, they're lonely, even though both Liska and Kovac are more than capable of doing something about their lonely condition, they mope around about it tirelessly. Even though Hiaasen's Mick Stranahan in SKIN TIGHT (**) was divorced 5 times, he's content living out in a stilt house off the coasts of South Florida by himself. That was much more believable than Sam Kovac's feminine moping around.
The Premise, possible SPOILERS.
The suspense behind DUST TO DUST's murder mystery actually overlaps four different cases. You have the apparent suicide hanging of police cop Andy Fallon, part of the notorious Internal Affairs division. Then there's the subsequent suicide of his decrepit father, retired cop Mike Fallon. Two cases from the past also come into play: the Thorne and Curtis murders, two cases Andy Fallon was investigating. There's quite a few balls in the air, and Hoag contrives to weave them all together. All of it stems from an element of love and tragedy from the Thorne murder years ago which turns Captain Ace Wyatt into a hero and ruins Mike Fallon's police career. Similar to Connelly's ECHO PARK, Kovac and Liska stage a scene to acquire a taped confession twice in DUST TO DUST. Also like ECHO PARK, killers will be killers and things never go according to plan. As I mentioned before, Liska's investigation into the Curtis murder seemed terribly extraneous. I suppose we need to have a girl kicking some butt?
Anyhow, Hoag fails to build the suspense and I lost my interest numerous times during the novel (beginning 100 pages and the final 250 pages or so). The constant reminders of Kovac's loneliness crowned by the sad ending really clinched my overall dissatisfaction with the novel. I really didn't care who was the killer 100 pages into the novel!