Karin Slaughter returns with another well-written, if violent, mystery
Delacorte Press, $26
Karin Slaughter is aptly named. She's one of the scariest voices in crime fiction.
With a long string of effective, sometimes moving, always scary and sometimes over-the-top violent books, Slaughter has followed the arc of her main series character's life through many, many hardships. Sara Linton, pediatrician, one-time county coroner and present day Atlanta physician, has been through it all.
She's been raped, she's been divorced, she's been re-married and recently, widowed, a development that put me off Slaughter for a few books. But Slaughter has managed to re-work Sara's life and characters from other books together so that they merge in an an interesting way. In this book, Sara's interest in the previously delineated Will Trent has blossomed.
Will is a Georgia Bureau of Investigations officer who is so dyslexic he almost can't read, but his intelligence has helped him find ways to deal with his problem. A logical and thorough thinker, he is an asset to any working team; he's not so clued in when it comes to his emotional life, as he was raised in a series of foster homes.
This kind of detail is where Slaughter excels as a writer. The emotional back stories of her characters are full and believable and always interesting. In this one, while Will is front and center, Sara is slightly more to the background of the story, which focuses mostly on Will's partner, Faith.
This is another area where Slaughter excels. Suspense. In the opening scene, which literally left me shaking, Faith is worried about not being able to get a hold of her mother, who is the main child care provider for her infant daughter. As she's (attempting) to race home through Atlanta traffic, repeatedly trying to contact her mother in any way possible, Faith's anxiety blossoms.
When she gets home to find the front door of her mother's house open, a bloody handprint under the knob, she finds her daughter securely locked in an outdoor storage area (though Faith is locked out), and when she goes into the house without backup, she discovers a hostage situation in the bedroom, a dead body in the kitchen, and no trace of her mother. Her reactions, while salvaging the situation for the neighbors, don't go over well in the police hierarchy when they arrive on the scene, and Faith, on top of having a missing mother, is in serious trouble.
As Slaughter deftly weaves a story where no one is who they seem to be, front and center are an array of strong and interesting women, only one of whom is Faith. Her mother, her long time friend (and GBI investigator) Amanda, and a cranky and elderly next door neighbor woman who isn't what she seems fill the stage, and the suspense never lets up.
As you read you wonder what's going to happen to Faith's mother; what she might have done to get herself into this situation; what's going to happen to Faith's family — she has a grown son and a cranky and bossy brother — and what's going to happen with Sara and Will, who are tentatively getting to know each other, despite the fact that Will is married to another woman.
Slughter is a great suspense writer because, while she starts with a great hook for her story, as any good suspense writer does, she backs it up with interesting characters and writing. She's also truly a mystery writer, as there are always many secrets to be discovered within any plot of hers. Her books are sometimes almost too violent. A couple of her books had scenes so terrible I still, unfortunately, remember them, years after reading them.
The trade off is the writing and the storytelling, and here she resembles another favorite writer of mine, Val McDermid. While McDermid is Scottish and Slaughter is American, when it comes to storytelling, they are certainly sisters.
It's a decision you have to make for yourself as a reader: does the writing make up for the violence? For me, when it's this excellent, it does. You may want to start at the beginning of the series, with Blindsighted, and don't say I didn't warn you.
Robin Agnew is the co-owner of Aunt Agatha's in downtown Ann Arbor.