If I had read this book first in the series, I would have never read books #2 and #3. Everyone (except for three out of the four kids) was terrible. Every adult was the worst ever. I felt like there were just too many characters for you to really focus on. I think if Hoag had either stuck with the lead detective to tell her story, or switched between him and the FBI profiler, it would have worked better. Instead we had at least 10 or more POVs I think. And we had the serial killer plot-line, the sociopath kid plot-line, the teacher and FBI agent falling in love, the detective trying to run his case, the one kid dealing with his terrible mother and absent father, another kid dealing with her parents, etc. Nothing hung together very well IMHO.
I can't tell you much about the characters besides what I said above. I liked the characters of Wendy and Tommy the best. Everyone else was awful.
The writing was not typical Hoag either. I feel like she was mimicking 1980s thriller/books back in the day which is the only way I can try to grasp why there was a lot of misogyny in this book. I just felt turned off by the two male leads, such as they were for this book.
The flow was pretty bad though. I think the main reason was that we had so many POVs and you found yourself (or excuse me, I found myself) getting impatient to get to who the serial killer was and the rest of the book felt like background noise. I get why Haog did it though, she follows up on two plot lines from this book (Wendy and her parents along with the pre-teen boy who is a bully and abusive) in book #2.
I will say that though the setting is the 1980s and Hoag makes a big deal about not relying on DNA evidence, this book was pretty weak. We don't get to see how not having DNA hampers the case at all. The town brings in the FBI to profile the serial killer. He is able to put together a pretty good profile of the killer. I really did want to see more issues like the Kinsey Milhone series does with her having to go and read microfiche, she had to go and interview a ton of suspects, her having to do a lot of nitty gritty work. This whole book was the cops going around and acting like jackasses for the most part to suspects, suspects wives and to kids at some points in the book.
The ending was a miss for me. I don't know what big takeway I was supposed to get, but unless Hoag has another book in the series I don't see what the payoff would be.