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Published: Saturday, 7/14/2007

Back in the saddle: Tami Hoag returns to the polo fields for her bad guys

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Every sport has its dark side and, in her latest crime novel, Tami Hoag continues her expose of the elite world of competition horseback riding and polo in Palm Beach and its nearby towns.

Her point? Power -especially in the form of great financial fortune - corrupts.

Duh.

An internationally ranked dressage rider herself, Hoag has no doubt seen enough to make The Alibi Man a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction.

Still, in interviews she maintains that despite some rotten apples, most folks in the equine show world are more than decent.

But what fun would it be to write about - or read of - the good, decent rich folks and their steeds?

No, better to root out the few bad apples, so to rouse the heroine, Elena Estes, from the trap of self-fulfillment and attendant happiness into which she may have descended after her triumph in Hoag's 2002 book, Dark Horse.

Hoag's strength is not in character development but in plot twists and over-the-top action. Elena emerges as a sort of superhero - relentless and skilled, an action figure who takes crazy risks with anger-fueled energy and welcomes advice from no one

Haunted by violent memories of loss and death, Elena is a moth to the flame of dangerous situations where she seeks a hard justice for her enemies.

Those bad guys, powerful, entitled, ruthless, and greedy, seemingly are charming and irresistible to their victims. But Hoag spends too little time developing them and thus, they're closer to cutouts - plot agents with big bank accounts and good seats on horseback.

Still, Elena does have a few staunch allies, and her interactions with them ring truest in this fast-paced book. There's plenty of action set in the color and decadence of the sub-tropical Florida landscape, where ravenous alligators are found not just in ditches but in elite stables, bars, and show rings.



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