Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter (2002)

The Grant County Thrillers, Book #1

Karin Slaughter, aptly named as she writes rather gruesome murder mystery novels, was unknow to me before I picked up her book Pretty Girls at the airport in November. (That book is reviewed on my blog here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-21) Pretty Girls was a very intense novel and its subject matter as dark as I have ever read, but her writing was really spectacular and her pacing break-neck, leading me to finish her book in a matter of hours.

When I was trolling around on the library website this past weekend, desperate for a good, can’t-put-it-down book, I was excited to find that she had written a murder mystery series, begun in the early 2000’s, that I had not read before and (even better) the first three books of the series were available for immediate checkout. That is how I found myself reading the first three books in the Grant County Thrillers in a matter of four days.

I love murder mystery novels and I love book series, largely because I am a very fast reader and series (especially ones that are several years old and have acquired a number of novels in them) give me a stack of books to plow through without having to wait for sequels, but also because reading novels with repeat characters appeals to my love of ongoing story lines.

The Grant County Thrillers take place in a fictional rural Georgia town of Heartsdale and focuses on the divorced couple Jeffrey Tolliver, the town’s police chief, and Sara Linton, the town’s pediatrician and coroner. Despite a less-than-civil divorce, the two occasionally work together to solve suspicious deaths that occur in Grant County. Satelliting around the pair are Sara’s parents and sister; the other officers on the Heartsdale police force; and several other members of their small town. Jeffrey is a thorough, focused police officer who is still unsure why he deliberately tanked his marriage to Sara, allowing himself to be caught in an affair with another local woman. Sara is a fiercely independent woman, an outstanding doctor, and a calm and largely unflappable coroner who refuses to take back a cheating husband.

In this first book of the series, Blindsighted, Sara and Jeffrey are forced to work on two gruesome sexual assault-homicide cases that take place in their small — usually crime-free — town. Complicating the cases are a suspicious lack of evidence or witnesses; a close relationship between the victims and one of Jeffrey’s detectives Lena Adams; and the similarity in the cases to a sexual assault that Sara personally experienced more than a decade previous.  Both Sara and Jeffrey must work quickly while trying to hold their own emotions at a distance, something that is harder to do than both had initially figured. Two more victims are discovered before the pair can find and stop the murderer.

Murder mysteries, in my opinion, need to move at just the right pace to be completely enjoyable: readers need the plot to go slow enough in certain places in order to provide adequate background information so we can decide which characters to trust and which ones might be hiding something. Readers also need clues to keep presenting themselves and witness to keep turning up so that we feel that the main characters are going to catch the killer before we lose interest. No one wants to stay up all night reading only to hear about coroner’s reports or footprints at the scene of the crime….we want forward momentum to be ever-present, we want to be told those footprints mean something. Also delicate to balance in books such as this are the moments of gore and graphic descriptions of violence which — if allowed to become too much the focus on the book — make it too weighty for the reader to want to continue. Those moments must be buoyed by lighter ones: ones where the characters have a heartfelt conversation or someone commits a generous act of human kindness.

Moving at just the right fast-but-not-too-fast pace, Slaughter does a wonderful job of keeping us breathless in anticipation, but not forgetting to let us in on the procedural details that will ultimately allow Sara and Jeffrey to solve the case. Also well done is the method the author uses to tell the story with three-pronged point of view technique. From Jeffrey we see the police procedural side of the investigation including witness interviews, crime lab reports, and law enforcement protocol (which at times hampers the investigation. From Sara, we see how critical the physical evidence she collects from the bodies during the autopsy is to finding the killers and assuring that he can be tied to the crime in court. Finally, we see bits and pieces of the story from the point of view of the victims (or soon-to-be-victims) and witnesses, allowing us to see some of the thousands of decisions each one made, some that can help (reporting suspicious activities) or hinder (lying about seeing victim the night of the crime) the case.

All in all this book was a great read, meeting all of my personal requirements for a page-turning thriller and I not only wanted to race to finish, but that I was in an equal hurry to start the second installment.

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