With her earlier Grant County novels, BLINDSIGHTED and KISSCUT, Karin Slaughter has developed a reputation for imagining --- and describing in excruciating detail --- particularly grisly crimes. Her latest venture, A FAINT COLD FEAR, is not for the faint of heart either. Fans of novels by Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, as well as devotees of the CSI television series, will recognize the familiar territory of the crime scene and autopsy table in Slaughter's work. It's too easy, though, to dismiss Slaughter's suspense novels as mere vehicles for gratuitous violence; instead, these novels use violent crime as vehicles for exploring the psychological scars crime leaves not only on its victims but also on the professionals who deal with it every day.
A FAINT COLD FEAR starts off with a bang, with the discovery of the body of Andy Rosen, a young man who apparently committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. When medical examiner Sara Linton's extremely pregnant sister is stabbed at the scene, though, Sara and her ex-husband, police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, refuse to believe the two crimes are unrelated. Soon Sara and Jeffrey are caught up in unraveling family secrets and campus politics, as their investigation leads them into the classrooms and labs at the large university that dominates life in their small Georgia town.
Because of the personal nature of the crime, Sara spends her time not only tracking down a killer but also worrying about the health of her seriously wounded sister. In addition, she finds herself questioning not only her growing involvement with Jeffrey but also her professional choices. At the psychological heart of the story, however, is Lena Adams, the former cop who has turned to working for campus security following her inability to recover psychologically from her sister's murder and her own rape in an earlier novel. Lena inexplicably becomes romantically involved with a menacing young man with a violent past, who also is one of the key suspects in the current rash of violent crimes around campus. This self-destructive relationship is one venue in which the author explores the legacy and scars of domestic abuse, a theme that runs throughout the book.
Although Slaughter spends a lot of pages exploring the ways in which Lena's status as victim continues to affect her life and work, gone is the navel-gazing that disrupted the flow and pacing of Slaughter's previous novel, KISSCUT. Instead, A FAINT COLD FEAR sustains a suspenseful trajectory, with just enough red herrings to keep readers guessing. Although some loose ends are tied up almost as afterthoughts, one key plot twist, cleverly dangled out to careful readers in the book's closing paragraphs, will surprise many and keep everyone on the edge of their seats awaiting the next installment in Slaughter's series.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 16, 2003