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The Boy, by Tami Hoag, is engaging enough to keep you off Netflix, for a week!

Tami Hoag’s “The Boy” shows not only has the author fully embraced the murder mystery genre, but proves she has mastered it, as well. Hoag has had thirteen consecutive New York Times best-sellers, and though she started off her career writing Romance, she soon switched to Suspense, when “every storyline that I came up with had a dead body in it.”

“The Boy” is part of her Doucet series of novels, that take place in South Louisiana and detail the people living in the swamps around Partout Parish. The Parish, being the Louisiana equivalent of a County, is indicative of how unique Louisiana really is, compared to the rest of the U.S. However, Hoag expertly portrays the lives of these people in a way, in which someone who has never been to the area can still identify. While she does cover the specific problems of these people, this is really a case study of the foibles caused by basic human nature. It is the tale of many characters, deeply intertwined in each other’s lives, causing a lot of pain, and very little pleasure.

The novel opens with a woman, Genevieve Gautier, bloodied and badly injured, running down a country road. She is trying to find help for herself and her son, who have been attacked, but few of her neighbors are home. She eventually lands on the doorstep of someone, who calls the Sheriff.

Enter Detectives Nick Fourcade and Annie Broussard, who both initially appeared in the Hoag novel “A Thin Dark Line,” and are tasked with solving this crime. Fourcade arrives at the crime scene to find a six-year-old boy, who has been stabbed to death. This brutal murder comes on the heels of another major investigation, he has been unable to solve. Tormented, not only by his inability to find Justice for the victim, but also by the Press, who know just the right words to set him off, for their benefit, as well as the family of the victim, that routinely takes their grief out on him.

While Fourcade is on the scene gathering evidence, Detective Annie Broussard heads over to the hospital to talk to the Mother, who is the only witness. This brings its own set of problems, because as she gets to know this victim, she starts to realize the two share similarly traumatic childhoods. Broussard begins to empathize with the victim, even as her husband starts to suspect young Genevieve could be the monster.

The mother is an excellent example of our society’s assumption that “respectable,” upper class people are above reproach, while simultaneously believing lower class people deserve the atrocities visited upon them, due to an inherent guilt for past deeds. Genevieve has had a life of troubles visited upon her, only to find herself a single mom, barely getting by, and tasked with taking care of a highly explosive boy with ADHD, as well as many more acronyms. Everyone is very willing to believe she brought this on herself.

While at its heart, this is a murder mystery, romance is still a part of Tami Hoag’s universe. This is appropriate, as this part of Louisiana contains the famed Evangeline Oaks, which for centuries have been the setting for stories of the ill-fated Acadian couple, Evangeline and her lost love Gabriel, which eventually culminated in the famous Longfellow poem.

However, in this novel, the romance is now more of a sociological study, as opposed to the gratuitous nature she employed in the beginning of the series, which was much more akin to a Harlequin romance novel. Tami Hoag explores the entire range of romantic relationships, including the detectives, who are mostly, happily married with a child, and trying to stay that way, while being immersed in the hectic, high stress life of murder detectives. Then there’s the Florette’s marriage, which involves a lower-class family, who have no money, a lot of kids and have filled their home with only anger and animosity. They are looked down upon by the townsfolk, even though their relationship is no worse than that of the new, highly esteemed Sheriff. He however, has the financial means and political clout to avoid the worst penalties, of poor choices, so even though he seems like a perfect, upstanding citizen, his fiancé Cheryl, and her son Cameron, both spend a lot of their free time afraid. Then there is Genevieve Gautier, the mother of the dead boy. Not only has she never found a man to treat her properly, but now the only good relationship she has ever been in, has ended in murder.

This novel is set in the heart of Cajun country, itself as much a character, as any of the people. The author economically and efficiently describes landscapes, making it easy to envision life in Acadiana, while the lead detective, Nick, reinforces the world building. Having grown up in the area, he is fluent in French, and uses Cajun phrases regularly. In fact, many in the town speak French, which is fitting for an area where one in ten families are fluent. Hoag has included a glossary in the book, and as further proof of her talent as a writer, she had the good sense to use the patois enough to be exciting, but not enough to be cumbersome, and distracting.

“The Boy,” is a well written murder mystery. The characters are superb, being both believable and well rounded, including the fringe characters. Many characters move back and forth, between likable and unlikeable, as we learn about the past incidents influencing their motivations. There is the deeply flawed detective, who only cares about balancing the scales of Justice, using his weird version of right and wrong, or the Mother of the murdered boy, who has spent her life being marginalized, only to find herself a suspect, during her most heartbreaking moment. There is the fiancé of the Sheriff, who starts off being the perfect Mother, but moves into negligent territory, as she tries to seal the marriage with a man, who on paper is perfect, but who also detests her son, or the murdered boys young babysitter, who’s family is so low in the pecking order that no one notices when she goes missing.

This story is about people dealing with extreme trauma, and the different ways we can both succeed and fail to overcome the hardships and expectations placed on us. It is much like the wheel, on the Price is Right; as it spins throughout the novel, we see how each character could be guilty of this brutal murder, and when it lands, you will be surprised, and gruesomely delighted at how imaginative Tami Hoag is, in her novel “The Boy.”

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