Slaughter’s 10th thriller featuring Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent begins with a killing at the state penitentiary. In the course of the investigation by Will and his partner Faith Adams, one of the prisoners involved, Daryl Nesbitt, tells them he can assist them in finding out about the crime in the prison if they help him establish his innocence. Nesbitt claims he was framed for the serial killings of women eight years earlier by the former police chief Jeffrey Tolliver and his partner Lena Adams, and he wants exoneration for those murders. Ordinarily Will and Faith would dismiss him out of hand, but for two facts: they know that at least Lena was a dirty cop, and they have to admit the serial killer seems still to be active, in spite of the fact that Nesbitt is in jail.
The story goes back and forth in time from different points of view to revisit Jeffrey’s original investigation. The matter is complicated by the fact that Jeffrey was married, before his death, to Sara Linton, the medical examiner who is now Will’s girlfriend. Reconsidering the case reopens painful memories for Sara, and Will is consumed with insecurity, exacerbated by Sara and Will’s shortcomings in communicating with one another.
But the overwhelming sensation felt by the characters, including Jeffrey in the past and Will, Faith, and Sara in the present, is revulsion over the brutality of the rapes and murders.
As gruesome as they are (and Slaughter depicts them in horrifying detail), the author’s real point, as she explains in an Afterword, is to shed light on violence against women, and the enduring effects of the trauma – at least among women who survive.
In a tense and thrilling run-up to the denouement, we learn who the killer really is, the significance of the title of the book, and how all of the characters cope with the repercussions of the case.
Evaluation: Karin Slaughter simply never disappoints. I tend to avoid books involving violence against women, but she treats the matter with such compassion, illuminates so much that should be brought to light, and writes so skillfully, that I always make an exception for her books. Make no mistake, the crimes she depicts are gritty and appalling, and the aftermath for women is tragic.
Fans of the series as well as new readers will appreciate all the series background Slaughter supplies by virtue of the need – in the story – to look back in time.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2020