A Faint Cold Fear by Karin Slaughter (2004)

Grant County Thrillers Series, Book #3 (2004)

In this third installment of the Grant County Thrillers, Slaughter has given readers yet another really well-crafted murder mystery. A full introduction to the series was posted on this blog last week, that review can be found here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-bU .

This time around, our main characters coroner Sara Linton and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, stumble upon a dead student on the local college campus. What appears at first to be a tragic suicide, quickly unravels into a murder investigation that will encompass two more students and a campus employee before the pieces of the puzzle come together.

Helping Sara and Jeffrey out is former police officer-cum-campus security guard Lena Adams. Complicating things is the fact that Lena was not asked to help nor is she authorized to do so. Instead, she finds that she cannot let go of her investigative training and soon is following up on leads without informing the police. Working with Lena is a college student named Ethan who comes to Lena with a series of leads that he will only share if he can be part of the reconnaissance.

In the hands of a more straightforward novelist, the security guard would gather some evidence, the coroner some, and the police some and together their shared information would solve the case. Not for Slaughter, however. The messy personal lives, poor choices and traumatizing events — past and present — affect all of the characters leading evidence to be missed and false accusations to be cast. Despite being well-qualified and intelligent, these experts make blunders and tell lies that move them further away from the truth rather than toward it.

The messy emotional lives of the characters do not detract from the story but make the story feel stronger and more competent. For a writer to present characters as robots — ones who look an data, interpret it, and come to conclusions — the book would feel wooden and unrealistic. Slaughter gives us cops who make hasty arrests based on grudges, doctors who make mistakes because of exhaustion, and civilians who hide truths to cover up their own secrets. And yet, they still get the bad guy. That makes for a better read and a “happier” ending.

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