The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter (2016)

Will Trent Series #8kept-woman-cover

Since I read my first novel by Karin Slaughter last November, I have gone on to read all of her novels and was greatly anticipating her new novel, The Kept Woman, which is part of the Will Trent/Sara Linton series. Her murder mysteries, which I think of as falling into the sub-genre of CSI-style, cop procedural murder mysteries, are impossible to put down: dark, gritty, thrilling, unpredictable and populated with repeat characters that I really want to get the bad guy…and be lucky in life and love in their personal lives.

In The Kept Woman, our favorite investigators have just be called into solve the murder of a former cop whose body was found at the construction site of a soon-to-be night club owned by several multi-millionaire NBA players. It becomes almost immediately clear that more than one murder has taken place and the wild investigation that follows takes the characters all over Atlanta; into abandoned buildings populated by crack addicts and into the mansions of NBA superstars and many places in between.

What unravels is an unbelievably complex story about the many ways that people can use their power and money to manipulate others and hide their sins with little effort.  Following the forensic evidence, witness statements, and gut instincts, the investigators begin to put reveal a massive coverup that includes abuse, murder, prostitution, rape, and drug addiction (to name just a few.)

Alongside the case, our beloved main characters Will Trent and Sara Linton are fighting to hang on to their unconventional romance and budding love for one another, even when ghosts from Will’s past threaten their happiness. After reading all six Sara Linton (Grant County) series and all eight books of the Will Trent series, I am enormously invested in seeing these two scarred, brilliant, amazing characters make a good life together, which they desperately deserve after years of heartache.

Note: Since this is my sixth book by Karin Slaughter reviewed on this blog, I have given the author her own tag “Karin Slaughter” so that those who want to read more about her books can do so easily.

Triptych by Karin Slaughter (2006)

Other books by Karin Slaughter reviewed on this blog include:

Blindsighted (2002) http://wp.me/p6N6mT-bU

A Faint Cold Fear (2004) http://wp.me/p6N6mT-cF

Pretty Girls (2015) http://wp.me/p6N6mT-21

This thriller, the first book in the Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter, was another fast-paced, impossible-to-put-down thriller by a master of the genre. As with her other novels, Slaughter is easily able to blend well-drawn characters, complicated story lines, and thrilling tension and the result is a dark page-turner that it is very easy to stay up too late into the night to finish.

Triptych’s main character, Will Trent, is slow to emerge from the pages of the book. Other characters take center stage for a large portion of the story, telling us their versions of the story — some more reliable than others — before Will enters the action. When he does, we meet wise FBI agent who works as part of a small investigative unit whose job is to help local police departments solve complicated crimes. Will is tall, lonely, wounded from a horrific childhood, able to solve many cases using his own brand of detective work, one which allows him to hide his severe dyslexia from his colleagues. In Triptych, Will is called in to help connect the dots between several rapes, abductions, and one recent unsolved murder in Atlanta. With the help of Atlanta Police officers, he slowly works to collect evidence and link these current crimes with many more spanning twenty five years.

This novel does an excellent job presenting the reader with almost all of the information they need to solve the crime, but keeping the characters in the story partially in the dark. Each of the story’s characters hold a piece of information key to solving the crime, but their lack of communication, and at times their lack of knowledge about the importance of the facts in their possession, mean the killer continues to go free day after day. Slaughter brings a host of characters into the story –several cops, FBI agents, parole officers, coroners, lawyers, ex-cons, prostitutes, victims and their families — and lets each of them present us with a slice of the overall story. The back and forth between the characters means that the reader draws closer and closer to the truth while waiting desperately for the police to do the same.

Overall, a thrilling read, so enjoyable that I have already downloaded the next two books in the Will Trent series onto my IPad so I can start them today.

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.

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.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (2015)

From the very first chapters of this book my heart was racing. The story takes off at a breakneck pace and never once slows down. In the novel, we meet the members of the Carroll family who have spent the last twenty-four years coping with — or more often, not coping with — the disappearance of their daughter and sister, Julia, from a college bar in 1991.

It is clear from the book’s opening pages that readers will not be spared the raw, gritty pain the remaining members of the Carroll family feel as the try to construct as normal a life as possible while not knowing what became of Julia. Slaughter character’s all have an underlying harshness, a remnant of their years of grief and the havoc it wreaked in their lives. While never quite unlikable, they do have an edge that makes them a bit uncomfortable delve into. In the end, however, we want to see what lies beneath their armor and we want to hear the stories they have to tell us.

The book includes intermittent chapters are narrated by the family’s father, Sam Carroll, where he directly addresses his missing daughter. He speaks to Julia, recounting for her what has happened to the family in her absence. He narrates that days, months, and then years that stretched out after her disappearance. He tells of their sorrow and of the subsequent neglect of one another left them all alone. He also tells Julia that he never ceased searching for or investigating her disappearance, reviewing the clues he has gathered in the intervening decades.

The heart of the story, however, focuses on the two sisters left in the family, Lydia and Claire. Estranged for more than two decades, the sisters come together after the shocking death of Claire’s beloved husband, Paul. Almost by accident, Claire learns that her husband has kept many, many secrets from her. Secrets she could never have imagined him to have, as they are so at odds with what she the man she knew to be her husband. Working alone at first, Claire unravels one thread and then another until her entire 20-year marriage begins to come apart at the seams. Desperate for answers, she turns to her sister Lydia for help solving a series of terrifying mysteries that she has unearthed since Paul’s sudden death. The secrets that Paul has kept from Claire grow darker and more horrific with each passing revelation and the sisters become terrified looking for answers might mean that their lives are in danger.

This terrifying, gripping tale is told in a wild, fast-paced chapters. The author never lets us rest, just as we begin to digest one bombshell, another is revealed, on and on until we cannot begin to imagine what is real or who the sister’s can trust. With only one another to rely on, they must work to make sense of what has happened and try to prevent any more people from being hurt, all the while working through their own damaged relationship and their still raw grief over Julia’s disappearance. The story was so scary, so unbelievably dark and horrendous I could hardly catch my breath, but nothing would stop me from reading one chapter after the next until well into the middle of the night. It left me absolutely breathless!

The story of a wife who discovers her husband’s dark secrets upon his death has been told before. Three titles that I have read in the past year come to mind here: You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Liar by Nora Roberts, and the short story “A Good Marriage” by Stephen King most recently published in Full Dark, No Stars. The fact that this story is based on a troupe that does not make Slaughter’s tale any less engaging or fresh. It seems that the story is compelling each time it is told because it taps into a deep-rooted fear we hold. It is a terrifying for us to imagine finding out that a person we loved and trusted without question — our partner or child or parent — was really someone we knew nothing about at all. We are all compelled to ask ourselves what we would do if we found out that a stranger has shared our bed for twenty years? Worse yet, what if that stranger is revealed to be monster?

NOTE: This book contains many descriptions of sexual violence, some against young girls. Do not read this book if you are sensitive to those topics.