I have promised myself that come November 2010, when things slow down just a bit, I am going to isolate myself and re-read all of Karin Slaughter’s books. Her Grant County series is set in the rural town of Heartsdale, Georgia, while the Will Trent novels take place in Atlanta and revolve around a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
Slaughter merged the two series in 2009 with UNDONE, and now, again with the just published BROKEN, has done such a seamless job of it in both novels that I can’t help but think that she has been planning this all along, ever since she first appeared on the literary scene with BLINDSIGHTED in 2001. I want to go back and look for some hint of this in her early work, but that is only one reason for blocking out a couple of weeks to revisit what Slaughter has done during the past 10 years. The primary reason is to once again bask in the excellence of Slaughter’s execution. No one is writing books quite like these.
I just finished a six-hour reading binge during which I did nothing but feast upon BROKEN. While UNDONE is set in Atlanta, BROKEN returns Dr. Sara Linton to Heartsdale for a holiday visit with her family. Linton is the widow of Jeffery Tolliver, the town’s popular police chief, and every step she takes down its familiar streets is like reopening an old wound. She is barely brushing off the road dust before she finds herself embroiled in an investigation into the death of a prisoner at the local jail. Her request for assistance results in Trent being dispatched to rural Heartsdale and the two renewing old acquaintances. His easy probing into the death ruffles the feathers of local law enforcement.
Tommy Braham, the deceased prisoner, had been arrested for the murder of Allison Spooner, a local college student, and actually confessed to the crime before apparently committing suicide. Trent, however, soon drives major holes through the process by which Braham was arrested, in which Officer Lena Adams played a major part. Linton has an almost pathological, though understandable, dislike for Adams, given that Adams played at least a passive role in Tolliver’s death some years before. When another student is found murdered in a manner that bears some commonalities to Spooner’s death, it is obvious that Braham could not have committed either crime and that Adams has made a horrible mistake. As Trent’s dogged investigation and Linton’s canny forensic talents slowly uncover secrets new and old in Heartsdale, the two find themselves sharing secrets of their own, even as Adams is about to interject herself into Linton’s life once again.
One of Slaughter’s trademark literary elements involves hitting the reader in new and unexpected ways, and she does so in major-league style in BROKEN. This is especially true of the final fourth of the book: do whatever you have to do in order to avoid being interrupted once you hit page 300, or you will never forgive yourself. I can guarantee you that you will be stunned by the “doer,” if you will --- not only by who they are, but also by what they are. And if the last page or two doesn’t chill you to the bone, you must have ice water in your veins. It almost seems unfair to have to wait a full year to see what happens next in Slaughter’s world, but it will be worth it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 23, 2010