Sam Kovik, investigating detective, has his New Year’s evening exploded from a routing duty to the beginning of a gruesome hunt through new and archived information to track the twisted maniac dubbed Doc Holiday, who celebrates every festive season by torturing and killing a female victim, and leaving the body where it is easily found. Over ten years, across many states, his handiwork shows up.
The latest is tagged as a zombie, by the limo driver whose vehicle she popped up in front of after she was bounced from the boot (US trunk) of the car in front of him, in party-mood traffic. The tag is picked up by the press (of course), and Kovik is ordered to get to grips with any similar case until tracking down the killer.
In a side story, Kyle Liska, a young teen, separated from the high school “in-crowd” by his artistic nature and empathy with other underdogs, becomes embroiled in a chase after one of his friends who disappears.
For a while it seems the two cases are one, but for the differences – the girl who has disappeared is not timed to match another holiday season, and it is not a year since the last Doc Holiday kill.
Working his way through old case files and the latest Medical Examiner’s findings of the “zombie” death, Sam and his partner – Kyle’s mother, Nikki – start to notice more discrepancies than similarities between old cases and the latest. Nikki and Kyle are also trying to locate Kyle’s friend.
HOAG lets us view parts of her fascinating crime story from the point of view of the perpetrator, who has delusions (don't they all) which he plays out to fill an obscure hole in hos state of mind. When we realise that the “zombie” kill is not his handiwork, we are thrown into a more twisted puzzle than before.
There are moments of sickening horror when we examine one family’s life, and more when we see Doc holiday (who soon has decided to use the tag as his own) at his worst work.