A psychological thriller with a valiant recovering victim

“Cold Cold Heart,” by Tami Hoag. Dutton. 390 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

Dana Nolan is the ninth victim of a serial killer known as Doc Holiday who had abducted, beaten, and raped her. By strength of wit and will, Dana had managed to murder the man whose intention was to have his ninth victim die like all the other eight. We meet Dana in a Minneapolis hospital where she has spent much time already trying to recuperate from the physical and psychological trauma. Indeed, she almost perished, and her progress is excruciatingly slow. 9780525954545_medium_Cold_Cold_Heart

Her face is a fright mask and her body wears a number 9 inscribed by her torturer. She has had serious wounds attended to, and more operations lie in her future. Brain damage being among her injuries, Dana is far from a smoothly functioning human being. Her memory is greatly impaired, thus her identity needs to be rebuilt. One of the great strengths of the book is Ms. Hoag’s representation of Dana’s initial condition and then her desperate fight to put herself back together.

Once she returns to her mother and stepfather’s care in Indiana, her recovery is compromised by other people’s expectations and judgments. She needs rest, quiet, time with herself, and an effective course of therapy. Her protective mother’s instinctive hovering, suggesting, and reminding is overwhelming rather than nourishing. Her selfish stepfather cannot help but signal that he finds the freaky Dana a burden that his political campaign can’t tolerate.

Dana needs to write herself a set of directions to find her way around the house in which she was raised. Also, her censorship mechanisms are impaired. She will blurt out embarrassing thoughts without having consciously formed them.

Tami Hoag, credit Jan Cobb

Tami Hoag, credit Jan Cobb

What’s the mystery? From one perspective, it is whether and how Dana will recover and what recovery will mean. It’s clear early on that the post-trauma Dana will never be the same person as the accomplished, sunny television reporter she had become.

The primary plot mystery, however, involves relationships among a quartet of high school students going back almost a decade: Dana, her sports hero boyfriend Tim Carver, her best friend Casey, and Casey’s boyfriend John. The four prepared to go their separate ways after graduation, but Casey soon vanished without a trace. She and Dana had a bit of a spat before Dana’s disappearance, though Dana is hard-pressed, unable, or unwilling to remember it.

What happened to Casey? Is she alive? Had she been another Doc Holiday victim or the prey of a similar predator?

Something within Dana needs to get to the bottom of this mystery. In this pursuit, she quickly finds herself reconnected with Tim, who is now a deputy sheriff in town. Upon high school graduation, Tim went off to be a cadet at West Point; it’s not clear why things didn’t work out. She also contacts the retired officer who was once in charge of tracking Casey down. This man, in the late stages of cancer, is a nasty wreck whose questions and demands force Dana to fight for those memories she has not yet be able to retrieve. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 11, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter, and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, click  here:   Florida Weekly – Cold Cold Heart

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