The crime in this second entry of Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series is one of the nastiest that an author can explore and that a reader can digest. That crime is pedophilia.

Now, as Slaughter is quick to point out in one of her mini data dumps, pedophilia is not the same as child molestation. Molestation is about using sexual behavior to cause pain while pedophilia is about someone believing that the only person upon whom he/she can bestow true love is a child. A pedophile denies that any pain or destruction is involved.

So, by way of warning, before you start thinking, based on the last book, that this will be an exciting murder mystery, it is not. It is a story about murder all right, but what is being killed is innocence and hope and souls. What this book does is detail the story of two families whose only reason for having children is to commit pedophilic acts upon them.

These parents pimp out their children to other pedophiles and photograph the acts. They also publish these photos and the photos of children they have kidnapped as toddlers in a cheaply printed magazine that is distributed all over their state and several states adjacent. For these people, it is not only the type of family life they believe in, it is a business.

With this said, if you choose to proceed with this book, understand that Slaughter does not pull any punches in her narrative. While the pedophilic acts are not detailed graphically, what is implied is raw, gritty and gut wrenching. And don’t even think for one minute that there is an HEA in the last chapter. Quite frankly, there is no fairy godmother and the wicked witch wins.

With that caveat in place, here is the set-up:

What starts out as a date to skate for Sara Linton and Jeffrey Tolliver turns into death by cop for a 13-year-old girl. Moments after arriving at the skating rink, Jeffrey observes Jenny Weaver holding a gun on 16-year-old Mark Patterson in the rink’s parking lot. Unable to talk her into relinquishing the gun and knowing that she is a crack shot, even at 13 years old, Jeffrey shoots Jenny just as she begins to pull the trigger of her gun.

Before the night is over, Jenny’s death will be just the first of three devastating scenarios that Sara and Jeffrey will have to deal with. The second situation occurs almost simultaneously with the standoff in the parking lot when Sara finds the mutilated corpse of a 28-week-old fetus in the skating rink’s bathroom, a room Sara has just seen the overweight Jenny leave. And, thirdly, when Sara performs the autopsy on Jenny, she discovers deep, self-inflicted razor cuts all over her body and she discovers that Jenny has had a back-alley female castration.

Jenny’s death, the condition of her body and the aborted fetus start Sara and Jeffrey on their investigation. But the words Jenny slung at Mark just before she died and the reactions of the parents upon being notified are what propel the investigation to the next level and ultimately into the world of pedophilia.

Sara is appalled with herself, wondering how she, as the town’s pediatrician, could have missed the signs of abuse in these children. And Jeffrey is engaged in anger, depression and self-flagellation over killing a child. In all his years as a cop, he has never even had to fire his gun directly at anyone, let alone kill someone. And in the midst of all this self-doubt and heartbreak is the personal relationship that they are trying to rebuild.

But the vast majority of the storyline focuses on Lena Adams, one of Jeffrey’s detectives. In the previous entry in the series, Lena was kidnapped by a religious fanatic. He nailed her hands and feet to a floor and raped her repeatedly over a period of days before Tolliver and Linton affected her rescue. However painful the crucifixion, the rapes themselves were never brutal. Instead, he used psychotropic drugs and seductive techniques to make her mentally and physically ready for his sexual actions.

Only four months have passed since her rescue and Lena is not just damaged goods. She is essentially broken. Steadfastly refusing psychological counseling, she is still trying to work. She is doing anything to stay busy, to regain some sense of control over her life. And she is failing miserably at every turn because, to the core of her soul, she believes that she abetted the killer/rapist in his attacks, drugs or not, just so she would not have to be alone or in the dark.

When she interviews Mark Patterson for the first time, she senses the exact same damage in him that is in her. And she senses that his damage is from the same source as hers – seductive rape. Slaughter then takes these two characters down parallel paths of self-confession and self-destruction. As we reach the final pages, both are still breathing but only one is alive. And both will have come to grips, in their own chosen way, with believing that doing wrong is better than doing nothing and with believing that being abused is better than being ignored or unloved.

Slaughter has written a tough read about a psychosis that is deeply disturbing on multiple levels. And the worst part is that she makes you realize that the pedophiles may be sick but they don’t look sick and they don’t act out their sickness in public. She makes you realize that they look like, and often are, the people who are sitting next to you on the church pew, in the PTA meeting or at the ball field. And she makes you realize that you will be thinking about this book long after you’ve read the last page.

Cover Art From Goodreads


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