THIS BOOK IS ABOUT BLAME, NOT MURDER
Sara Linton is a pediatrician in Grant County, Georgia, and is also the medical examiner there. She has been divorced from Jeffrey Tolliver, the town’s police chief, for two years and her coroner position causes her significant emotional conflict when she must work with him professionally. Then one otherwise normal Monday morning, Sara becomes distracted at her office with personal concerns and loses track of time.
Late for a meeting with her sister, Sara goes to the restroom in the local diner where they are having lunch, only to find Sibyl Adams, a blind college professor, slashed and raped in a toilet stall. Sara is unable to save Sibyl’s life; the injuries are too massive and she has been bleeding for too long. Before the day is over, she must autopsy the body, present her preliminary conclusions to her ex-husband and face down, in the morgue, Jeffrey’s volatile detective, Lena Adams, Sibyl’s identical twin sister.
From the outset, Karin Slaughter writes a tale that is fraught with characters that have serious flaws, serious secrets and unhappy past lives. And Slaughter does not reveal those secrets or the details of those past lives en masse. She provides them piecemeal, a sentence here, a paragraph there. Bit by bit, we begin to assemble the clues, not only to the murder but also to the flawed characters of the three major protagonists. Little by little, Slaughter forms snapshots of their pasts and clues to their present. And those snapshots are not pretty.
The premise of the mystery is the race to identify and capture a serial rapist and murderer whose crimes are evolving and accelerating. But, in the end, the person behind those crimes is secondary to the ramifications of those crimes, ramifications that will change the lives and characters of Sara Linton, Jeffrey Tolliver and Lena Adams forever.
By the end of the book, I thoroughly despised the character of Lena Adams. Everyone in the book disliked her, and I fully believe that it was the author’s intention to make the reader dislike her. Dislike aside, did I want what happened to her at the end of the novel to occur? No. Did I feel that she deserved what happened to her? No. But I do feel that Slaughter used the events of this story to create a main antagonist for this series and to create a counterpoint to Sara.
And by the end of the book, I wasn’t too fond of the character of Sara Linton either. Twelve years prior to the events of this story, Sara had been brutally assaulted, left to die and suffered permanent physical consequences as a result. But the psychological trauma was just as destructive as the physical trauma and Sara had never breathed a word of the details to anyone beyond her immediate family.
Psychologically stupid as that was at the time, particularly for a doctor, it was even more so when she married Jeffrey Tolliver without telling him about the assault. Not caring that he was entitled to know that the assault would prevent him from having children with her, Sara lied to him, not only by omission but also in a direct manner about the reason for her scars. So it is no wonder, that in trying to keep a secret of that magnitude from her husband, she built a wall around herself that was so tall and so thick that it shut him out. As a result of being pushed to the bottom of her priorities, he sought solace and companionship elsewhere, got caught and they divorced.
Yes, Jeffrey was wrong, but Sara was just as wrong. Unfortunately, Slaughter paints Sara as the only legitimately aggrieved party, the only one who had a right to be hurt. Even when the events of Sibyl’s attack, so similar to those of Sara’s assault, force her to admit to Jeffrey about her assault and its ramifications, Slaughter never has Sara apologize to Jeffrey, not even so much as one “I’m sorry I lied to you.” Never once does Slaughter have Sara even think that her marital problems might have been partly her fault.
Perhaps Slaughter was just being overly intent on her message about rape victims not being at fault for their attack. But for whatever reason, she chose to ignore the difference between the victimology of rape and the victimology associated with marital betrayal. Contrary to Slaughter’s presentation, the problems in a marriage are not unilateral. Sara betrayed Jeffrey just as deeply as Jeffrey betrayed her. But unlike Jeffrey, she just hasn’t been caught until now.
So, at the end of the book, the last man standing in honorable esteem is Jeffrey Tolliver. Slaughter writes him as a man who looks at his strengths and weaknesses with an honest eye. She writes him as a man who takes responsibility for his actions. Even when Sara delivers the devastation associated with her lies of omission, Jeffrey does not go on the attack. There is not even one “How could you?” He is hurt to the core, but he hurts for Sara just as much. And he is willing to work to get her back and to try to achieve a better and different relationship than they had before.
So it appears that we are definitely meant to dislike one main character – and I do. It also appears that we are meant to sympathize with the main female character – but I don’t. And I can’t tell whether Slaughter wants us to like or dislike the male lead – but I do anyway. Then again, this is Slaughter’s debut novel and some confusion is natural.
First work or not, it is very clear that Slaughter knows how to pen a tense thriller. She knows how to get the reader wrapped up in the characters and the storyline, with scene construction and dialogue flowing naturally. The reader becomes enmeshed in the emotions and actions of the story, not distracted by verbose styling or editing problems.
But what I really want to know is whether, in future books, she is able to pen a female lead that is likeable. A flawed heroine is one thing – a whining, lying prima donna is another.
Cover Art from Goodreads