The Boy by Tami Hoag

exportas the boy9781409169635

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Tami Hoag is a best-selling author with over 40 million copies of her books in print. She successfully made a transition from writing romance to crime/mystery, and has written a series of stand-alone crime novels. Since beginning her sojourn into crime in 1988, she has written 39 – a frequency of over one each year. The Boy is her current crime novel.

At its heart, The Boy concerns the apparently senseless killing of a seven-year-old boy and the search for his killer. The Boy is set in Partout Parish in south Louisiana – a territory shared with the Robicheaux novels of James Lee Burke – where the boundary between good and evil is paper-thin.

The murder is being investigated by Detective Sergeant Nick Fourcade – a detective who was ‘best left to his own devices, that he didn’t play well with others but was a first-rate detective’. [25] Clearly, a detective who will not care too much about whose toes and egos he will trample on in his quest for the truth; a detective with serious anger management issues who recites the mantra ‘inhale, focus, calm, patience’ to calm himself; but also, one who is determined to bring a killer to justice.

Fourcade is a complex person quickly moving from rather basic and direct language to quoting the American novelist William Gaddis [considered to be one of the first important postmodernists]. Relevant to this story, Gaddis once said ‘You get justice in the next world. In this one you have the law’ [33].

He is married with a young son but his relationship with his wife, who is also a detective, is marred by tension and an awareness on both sides that the other cannot be pushed too far. Their son – Justin – seems to be present only to allow those who are witness to the killing to say more than once ‘go home and hug your children’.

Sharing more than just crime’s location with the setting of James Lee Burke’s books, the author allows Fourcade to occasionally slip into faux Robicheaux philosophising which unfortunately does not always ring true.

But, Fourcade is not the only one in the Sheriff’s Office with anger management issues. The Sheriff of the Parish, who has his own Instagram page and ends every press conference with ‘we have crime to fight’, has some real issues in this area. In one encounter with Fourcade, ‘rage fills [the Sheriff] like a flash fire’ [379]. In another, his face ‘turns purple with rage’. Further, his deputy – whose corrupt behaviour in another sheriff’s office is gradually revealed through the course of the investigation – is even worse and brutally attacks Fourcade after this corrupt history is eventually revealed.

It is within this context that the hunt for the boy’s killer takes place. The boy, who is eventually identified as KJ Gauthier, has ADHD. The reader never learns what ‘KJ’ stands for – which is not surprising given the undue attention given to the internecine battles between some of the officers in the Sheriff’s Office at the expense of an investigation. Sadly, it is also not surprising that the identity of the killer is revealed not by clever detective work but by the killer’s own admission.

However, this is not the only unlawful death to be solved. There are two other subsequent killings which have links with the first.

Thus, the scene is set for the uncovering of the dark side of a small town in Louisiana. While the killing of KJ is the core of the novel, there is a subtext involving, in particular, three young teenagers who populate the book – Dean, Cameron and Nora. These teenagers each suffer from an excess of poor and/or distracted parenting with absent fathers and suicidal mothers. Dean, who is aged about fourteen, is clearly destined to be a sexual predator both bullying boys who are not as ‘macho’ as he believes he is and groping any girl within his reach. Unfortunately, he meets a rather sad end at the hands of one of his male victims.

This is all managed quite well by the author and the descriptions of the interactions between those young teenagers ring true – although at the same time unpleasantly.

The Boy is firmly placed within the sub-genre of crime literature where more emphasis is placed on the description of gruesome assaults and killings by generally depraved and frankly quite weird people than on plot and character development. There appears to be in the Partout Parish not one person you could safely invite home for dinner. Even the ‘hero’ of the book – Nick Fourcade – has those serious anger issues and very poor relationship skills.

There are also some lapses in the quality of writing including rather awkward sentences such as –

That doesn’t mean my societal obligations and my higher beliefs always mesh. Inner conflict is the evolving man’s daily struggle, no? [32]

Let’s go home, partner, and love our son, and raise him well. That’s what we can do. [474]

All in all, it is a book best suited for holiday reading. Clearly, a strong market exists for such books as evidenced by the level of sales the author has enjoyed. However, it is not a book for the more discerning reader. While there are sections of the book which are reasonably good, the quality is not sustained and ultimately it disappoints.

The Boy

[2019]

by Tami Hoag

Hachette

ISBN 978 1 4091 6963 5

478pp; $29.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

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