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The Alibi Man    by Tami Hoag Amazon.com order for
Alibi Man
by Tami Hoag
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Tami Hoag takes readers back to Florida and into the elite circles of the ultra rich in her latest contemporary suspense, The Alibi Man. Back for an encore performance is ex-narcotics detective Elena Estes, one of the author's more interesting and conflicted characters, first introduced in Dark Horse. The product of privilege, Elena abandoned that lifestyle after those closest to her shattered her trust.

Elena still works on a horse ranch, content to keep others at arm's length and live her life one day at a time. As the story opens, her very recent break-up with detective James Landry weighs heavily on her. After he pushed her for a commitment, she invited him to take a hike, pointing out that he had no business falling for a woman still burdened with so much personal baggage. While riding the edges of the property to work off her anger, Elena discovers the badly decomposing body of fellow groom, Irina Marcova. The younger woman hadn't been seen around the ranch for most of the weekend but nobody thought to raise an alarm - Irina was a confirmed party girl on the prowl for a rich Florida billionaire and often disappeared for days at a time.

Elena immediately calls in Landry, and as he pulls together a team to investigate the Russian beauty's murder, Elena decides to do a little investigating of her own. She soon finds herself coming face to face with her past, including ex-fiancÚ Bennett Walker. Their break-up caused a media frenzy after Elena testified against him on a statutory rape charge. The fact that her father headed up Bennett's defense eventually resulted in Elena's complete alienation from her family and the the life she knew. It becomes evident that the tiger hasn't changed his stripes; Bennett belongs to an exclusive group of local playboys, who call themselves The Alibi Club and cover for each other as the need arises. Elena's gut tells her they're protecting the killer and that hunch soon has her digging into the group's background and each of the men's various sins. But a brutal Russian mobster has his own agenda for wanting Irina's killer all to himself. He'll let nothing, including Elena, get in his way.

Add The Alibi Man to Tami Hoag's growing list of impressive suspense stories. Rich characterizations, tight and believable plotting and Hoag's skill at bringing the lifestyles of the rich and decadent polo crowd to colorful life, elevate this story a good few notches above the norm, while a last minute plot twist raises the payoff. Elena Estes is a gutsy, in your face, middle aged ex-cop whose early personal betrayals pushed her into law enforcement. She's committed to justice but her personal life is a mess; she's full of emotional contradictions, not the least of which is trying to work through her guilt over the shooting death of a fellow officer. The fact that she almost died at the hands of the same killers does little to appease her or help regain the respect of former colleagues.

Loading this much dark, emotional baggage onto a character is tricky, but Hoag skillfully juggles Elena's personal issues with her investigation so that neither overshadows the other. The Alibi Man is another winner from a veteran author who knows how to tell a richly textured and engrossing story.

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