Over the course of four fine novels, Karin Slaughter has created a mythos involving Grant County, Georgia, a rural area whose soil seems steeped in dark and deadly acts. While the primary character of these books ostensibly has been county medical examiner Sara Linton, it is Jeffrey Tolliver, Linton's ex-husband and occasional lover, who is the prime motivator of FAITHLESS, Slaughter's latest effort.
Tolliver is an extremely interesting character, a not-entirely likable individual who nonetheless is possessed with a self-assuredness that ultimately holds him in good stead during periods of difficulty that are usually of his own making. As the police chief of Grant County, Tolliver and Linton have been thrown together professionally even when at odds personally. So it is ironic that at the beginning of FAITHLESS, when Tolliver is in the process of capsizing another attempted reconciliation, he and Linton should stumble, literally, upon a crime scene involving the body of a young woman who apparently has been buried alive.
The search for the victim's identity leads Tolliver to a family living in isolation on a farm that does charitable work involving ex-convicts and has strongly fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Tolliver and Lena Adams, one of Tolliver's officers, are somewhat put off by the traditional values of the victim's family, but are also professional enough to realize that their philosophical differences with the family cannot be permitted to cloud their investigative judgment.
Yet there are a number of suspects among the family, and their natural reclusiveness and distrust of strangers merely add to the suspicion of the authorities that all is not right. When another disappearance is connected to the family, it becomes clear that plenty is not right. Ultimately it is the motivation of the murderer that uncovers his or her identity, as FAITHLESS moves steadily toward a cataclysmic climax.
FAITHLESS may well be the most ambitious of Slaughter's works to date. While the search for the young woman's identity and her murderer is its primary plot vehicle, this is a work driven as much by its characters as by events. Tolliver, Linton and Adams are tragically, almost fatally, flawed, yet continue to rise above their problems and, if not always triumph, at least battle to a draw. This is particularly true of Adams, who is a roiling mass of contradictions, perhaps the most noteworthy being that she is a police officer in an abusive relationship. Her problems are highlighted when she encounters, in both a professional and personal capacity, another woman in similar straits who she is called upon to help --- even though Adams cannot help herself.
Domestic abuse isn't the only topic that Slaughter explores here. Issues such as abortion, fundamentalist Christianity, and traditionalism dip and swirl throughout the novel. Her treatment of these issues, and others, is extremely evenhanded, with all points of view presented with equal fervor and with the author not taking any particular side, either implicitly or explicitly. As a result, the exploration of these issues adds to, rather than detracts from, the plotline. Slaughter's primary focus is on the characters, all of whom are idiosyncratic in their own way.
A familiarity with the earlier Grant County novels is helpful but ultimately not necessary to the reader's enjoyment of FAITHLESS. Slaughter does an excellent job of bringing new readers into the series. Certainly, however, it will be almost impossible for first-time readers of Slaughter to resist visiting earlier volumes while waiting in anticipation for the next. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 25, 2006