In Karin Slaughter’s tenth novel, she combines the characters from her two ongoing detective series, who come together to help solve a series of murders in the small town of Heartsdale, in Grant County, Georgia.
Sara Linton, now a pediatrician in Atlanta but formerly the county medical examiner in Grant County, has come back home for Thanksgiving. Although called in to help on the killings, she wants to avoid Lena Adams, the police detective that Sara blames for the death of her husband four years earlier. Will Trent from Atlanta is also called into the case. Sara has met Will before, and there is an attraction between them that neither one wants to acknowledge, although it seems evident to everybody else.
Sara wants Will to investigate the apparent negligence of Lena in pursuing this case, but Will discovers that Lena’s boss, Acting Chief Frank Wallace, is even worse. He has problems with alcoholism and anger management, and is clearly covering up something about the murders.
Discussion: The mystery of the killings is solved at the end, but that never really seems to be the point of a Slaughter book. Rather, the process of criminal investigation provides a framework for Slaughter to explore the flawed, complex characters who work on the cases.
Sara is still coping with the loss of her husband Jeffrey. Will struggles through the world as a dyslexic, having survived a violent and emotionally impoverished childhood in a series of foster homes. Lena, a multiple victim of abuse, has internalized her experiences, and is, as Will observes, “angry, and self-destructive, and feeling trapped.” Frank thought he could have a stereotypical, television-quality nuclear family and fulfilling job; he has not been able to handle the shocking reality of what he got instead.
And yet… Sara is a strong woman whose compassion knows few bounds. Will has learned to compensate for his inability to read words with an exceptional ability to read people. Lena never gives up on love. And even Frank has a redeeming sentimentality and tenderness that soften his harsh edges.
Slaughter never portrays the human condition in black or white – her ability to create realistic, three-dimensional characters is what makes her work stand out from so many other authors in this genre.
At the end of the book, the characters remain broken, but they’ve moved on to a new day and a new resolve to cope in a world full of bashed dreams.
Evaluation: I love Slaughter’s characters. They are endearing, frustrating, offensive, surprising, scared, oh so human, and willing and eager, for the most part, to give and receive love.
Published by Delacorte Press, 2010