the course of some fine, even brilliant, novels, Karin Slaughter
has explored a relationship triangle among Heartsdale, Georgia
police chief Jeffery Tolliver; medical examiner and pediatrician
Dr. Sara Linton, Jeffery's (now and again) wife; and detective Lena
Adams. Damaged by a rough and terrifying childhood, Lena has a
pattern of getting herself into jams, and Jeffery is called upon to
extricate her from most of them, often putting himself in danger.
The situation is one that Sara finds untenable, resulting not only
in tension between herself and Jeffery but open hostility between
Lena and Sara.
BEYOND REACH commences with Lena once again at the center of a
disaster. She is discovered in her hometown of Reese, sitting on
the football bleachers of the local high school, near a burning van
that contains the charred remains of an unknown victim. Lena
refuses to provide any explanation for what has occurred, even as
she is hospitalized for observation. When Jeffery is notified of
the incident, he immediately begins the three-hour drive to Reese,
accompanied by his wife. This could not have come at a worse time
for Sara, who is involved in a vicious medical malpractice case
that threatens to derail her career.
The mystery deepens, however, when Lena, reacting violently to the
arrival of Sara and Jeffery, manages to escape from police custody
with their apparent help. At this point, Slaughter utilizes a
unique narrative method. She follows Sara and Jeffery in the
present time while alternating with Lena's story, which begins
three days previously, chronicling the events that ultimately lead
to her being found, bruised and uncommunicative, at what appears to
be a murder scene.
As the twin trails of Slaughter's narrative unfold, much of Lena's
heretofore unknown background is revealed. The answer to the
ultimate question --- What possessed Lena to return to her
hometown, a place full of unhappy memories and nightmares? ---
provides the keys not only to her past but also to the maelstrom of
Even as she attempts by any means possible to force Sara and
Jeffery to leave her to her own fate, Lena succeeds only in drawing
them into a series of violent encounters that can, and will, end
badly. By the time the two narratives again intersect, an ironic
nobility is demonstrated and a resolution of sorts is had. As has
been noted elsewhere, however, the end of one tale is only the
beginning of another.
The pacing of the plot and narrative is simply breathtaking.
Slaughter's descriptive powers reach new heights here and are
unitized to particular --- and sometimes peculiar --- effect in the
midst of several dark passages that gaze unflinchingly into the
stark result of violence. The conclusion is so abrupt and
unexpected that it will bear re-reading a number of times, even as
you scream "NO!" during the course of doing so. BEYOND REACH,
Slaughter's best work to date, hints of even greater brilliance to
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011