The Kept Woman is the 8th book in the Will Trent series by the never-disappointing Karin Slaughter. [True bit of personal information: one of my sisters is a non-reader – of ANYthing – EXCEPT Karin Slaughter. It helps that my sister is a lieutenant in a police force, and thinks Karin Slaughter gets everything absolutely right.]
As this book begins, Will Trent, Special Agent of the Georgia FBI, has been dating Sara Linton, a doctor and widow of a police officer, for eighteen months. But he is still technically married to Angie Polaski, who has been “flitting in and out of Will’s life like a mosquito since he was eleven years old.” To Will, Angie has been like an older sister, a twisted lover, and a hateful wife. As for Angie, she both loves Will and hates him, and doesn’t want to let him go. At the very least, she wants to be the one who decides. And above all, she does not want him to feel what he does for Sara Linton. As Angie reflects on Will’s role in her life and the threat to it that Sara posed:
“Angie would go away. She would have a little fun, then a little more fun, then a little too much fun, which would necessitate her going back to Will so that she could recharge. Or hide out. Or whatever she needed to do in order to reset herself. That was what Will was for. He was her safe harbor. She had never anticipated that a fucking red-headed dinghy would drop anchor in her calm waters.”
In this book, Sara, the “red-headed dinghy,” officially joined the GBI as a medical examiner two weeks before. She is now Will’s colleague as well as his lover. Will, Sara, and Will’s partner Faith all report to Deputy Director Amanda Wagner, who has ties to each of them that transcend the job.
When the story begins, they are called to a crime scene in an abandoned Atlanta nightclub owned by a prominent sports figure, Marcus Rippy. Will had just spent the last seven months trying to get Rippy convicted of rape, to no avail. Faith asks Will, “What’s a dead ex-cop doing inside Marcus Rippy’s club less than two weeks after he walks on a rape charge?” None of them believe in coincidences.
Discussion: As in her other books, Slaughter seamlessly integrates into her story commentary on sexual abuse, child abuse, battered women, gender relationships, and the outlook for the impoverished, with a fierce compassion that insists you don’t look away from what happens outside of the perhaps sheltered lives of the readers of her books.
In this story, Slaughter also tackles the phenomenon of highly paid, very powerful sports figures who can get away with a great deal of misbehavior (including toward women) because of their financial “value” to a team and the city in which the team plays. With their very expensive lawyers and cadre of paid-off politicians and enforcement officers, sports figures don’t have much to worry about from accusations of misconduct by young women of little resources, especially if the woman was anything less than a saint.
Slaughter also turns a sympathetic eye to the team wives, with a perceptive assessment of their situations:
“She was thin. Too thin, but maybe that came with the territory. The other wives on the team were always cleansing or dieting or going to spinning classes or plastic surgeons to get things sucked and filled and pinned back up so they could compete with the groupies who swarmed their husbands. They need not have bothered. Their husbands were not attracted to the groupies because they were hotter than their wives. They were attracted the them because they were groupies.
It was a hell of a lot more fun to be with somebody who thought you were perfect than it was to be with a woman who wouldn’t put up with your shit.”
Sometimes, being the wife of a sports player also coincided with being battered, and there wasn’t much hope of escape:
“The most life-threatening time for a battered woman was when she tried to leave her abuser. The only thing that shifted the odds was having another man around to protect her.”
Either way, the woman was not her own person; she was a kept woman, hence the title of this book.
One passage is worth quoting to show the layered ways Slaughter portrays the abuse of women and children, and her outrage and sadness over the continued existence of these problems. Will and his partner Faith are discussing how Angie “took care of” kids when Angie was in the police force:
“Will said, ‘Angie worked vice. The young ones – she kind of took them under her wing.’
Faith: ‘And gave them pills to sell?’
Will rubbed his jaw. ‘Angie knows what it’s like to be stuck in that kind of situation with no one looking out for you.’
‘You’ve lost me,’ Faith said. ‘I don’t see the compassionate side of turning a ten-year-old into a drug mule.’
‘Which is worse: selling Oxy or selling sex?’
‘Those are the only two choices?’
‘For kids like that, stuck in the system, changing schools and foster homes five times a year, never knowing where they’re gonna sleep from one night to the next?’ He sounded emphatic. ‘Yeah, those are the choices.’”
Will should know; he had been in that system himself, as had Angie, which is one reason why he has stuck by her so steadfastly. Sara loves him for it, but is terrified at the same time; when Angie is in trouble, will he stick with Sara? Or can he not resist the pull Angie has exerted over him their whole lives?
Evaluation: Slaughter is not only an ardent and tireless advocate for the underclasses, but an excellent writer of thrillers. Her stories are consistently engaging and often gripping. Her characters are multi-faceted and her knowledge of the justice system is exceptional.
Can this be read as a standalone? Probably, but it would be more rewarding to read her books in sequence so you can pick up all the nuances of the evolving relationships.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2016
The Will Trent Series in Order:
Triptych – 2006
Fractured – 2008
Undone – 2009
Broken – 2010
Fallen – 2011
Snatched – 2012
Criminal – 2012
Unseen – 2013
The Kept Woman – 2016