CRIMINAL is the newest installment in Karin Slaughter’s popular series, which continues to explore the complex relationship between Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent Will Trent and physician Sara Linton in the context of a gritty and intriguing yet literary police procedural. Slaughter keeps on fulfilling and surpassing the promise of each of her books with the arrival of her latest work. Yet, even with that track record, CRIMINAL is something special --- an ambitious novel that spans decades and explains much while setting in place elements for future volumes.
"CRIMINAL is full of surprises, whether you have followed Slaughter’s work from the beginning or are encountering her Atlanta environs for the first time. Her portrayal of 1970s Atlanta puts you in the moment in a way that perhaps only George Pelecanos has matched with his portrayal of Washington, D.C. in the mid-1970s."
Moving back and forth in time between the mid-1970s and the present, the book explores two of Slaughter’s most intriguing and enigmatic characters while demonstrating how the actions, errors, omissions and events of the past can affect the present with devastating impact. Back in 1974, Amanda Wagner, deputy director of the GBI and Trent’s immediate superior, was one of the first women in the Atlanta Police Department, which was roiling under the heat of social change. Wagner and her partner, Evelyn Mitchell, found themselves tasked --- more on their own than officially --- with investigating a brutal crime in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Their superiors do not seem to care if they make an arrest or not, an attitude that makes the two all the more determined to bring the perpetrator to justice, even as they are seemingly obstructed from doing so --- deliberately and otherwise --- from every direction.
Interestingly enough, 1974 is also the year in which Will Trent was born. Trent was consigned to a children’s home at an early age when his father was tried and imprisoned for murder. In the present, he is drawn to the now-abandoned site of his former institutional residence, and encounters Wagner, who is there on a mysterious errand of her own. The relationship between Trent and Wagner is somewhat prickly, given that the Bureau is investigating the disappearance of a young woman, and Wagner is keeping Trent off the case. Trent is drawn to the investigation, given that the missing girl bears a striking resemblance to Trent’s mother. Linton has continuing difficulties and frustrations with Trent’s inabilities to open up to her, even as he finds himself falling more deeply in love with her.
The combination of secrets from the past and violent events of the present are on a collision course, one that will result in new revelations and understanding, even as lives hang in the balance, particularly as someone from Trent’s past enters his life after an extended absence. By the time the book reaches its startling conclusion, things will never be the same.
CRIMINAL is full of surprises, whether you have followed Slaughter’s work from the beginning or are encountering her Atlanta environs for the first time. Her portrayal of 1970s Atlanta puts you in the moment in a way that perhaps only George Pelecanos has matched with his portrayal of Washington, D.C. in the mid-1970s. However, it is the manner in which Slaughter slowly ties the past with the present in ways that can be discerned only gradually that makes this thriller the winner that it is.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 5, 2012