A Thin Dark Line

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Theorists ascribe the popularity of murder mysteries to the patterns that they usually follow. Such patterns include a clearly defined hero, an equally clear villain, an excruciating investigation aimed at exposing the guilty, and an ending with either a one-on-one confrontation between the hero and the villain, or a courtroom case in which the villain is punished and the hero vindicated. In A THIN DARK LINE, Tami Hoag alters this formula yet still delivers a riveting story.

Readers learn within the first forty-four pages that real estate agent Pamela Bichon has been brutally murdered. Accused architect Marcus Renard has been freed on a technicality despite a preponderance of evidence against him. Nick Fourcade, a former New Orleans cop with rumors of manufactured evidence in his past, is responsible for the error. The fourth chapter ends with Deputy Annie Broussard rescuing Renard from a vicious beating at the hands of a seething Fourcade.

Broussard arrests Fourcade, and from then on Hoag asserts her unique perspective by implicitly examining the presumption of innocence while dealing with Broussard’s dogged search for truth in the Bichon murder. In addition to her obsession with Renard’s guilt, Broussard must deal with sadistic ostracism at the hands of her fellow officers, who brand her a traitor for arresting Fourcade, and with censure from her superiors, who consider her a discipline problem. With nowhere to turn, she reluctantly forges an unofficial partnership with Fourcade, since each perceives that the other is the only one interested in justice for Pam Bichon. The partnership solves the case, although not in a way that either would have foreseen.

Tami Hoag amply satisfies the readers’ appetite for mystery, while at the same time suggesting that they must re-examine their attitudes toward the presumption of innocence.