Karin Slaughter has quietly made a name for herself as Patricia Cornwell's heir apparent. Her Southern sensibilities, combined with compelling characters, detailed descriptions of crime scenes and psychological tension, have made her three previous Grant County suspense novels popular and critical favorites.
Although INDELIBLE shares its rich Southern backdrop and deftly drawn main characters with Slaughter's earlier works, its focus and approach are dramatically different. Whereas the earlier Grant County novels centered on serial killers and grisly murders, INDELIBLE travels freely between past and present as it investigates not only its characters' troubled pasts but also three separate crimes separated by decades.
INDELIBLE starts off quietly enough, as pediatrician and part-time medical examiner Sara Linton stops by the police station in her small Georgia town. She's dropping off a report, but she's also hoping to check in with police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, her ex-husband (and on-again, off-again love interest) who has offered a not-entirely unwelcome reconciliation. Within minutes, though, all hell breaks loose, as two young men start a shooting rampage in the station lobby, killing several officers, wounding others, and taking everyone else hostage. Sara realizes almost immediately that this is more than a random act of violence; the two killers seem to have a personal vendetta against Jeffrey himself.
As Sara desperately tries to save Jeffrey's life while protecting the lives of the other hostages (including a group of schoolchildren), the narrative travels back in time to 1991, when Sara and Jeffrey were first dating. Sara is still denying her developing love for Jeffrey, and she is still hiding some important secrets from him.
When the two young lovers head off for a rare vacation together, Jeffrey takes Sara to Sylacauga, the small Alabama town where he grew up. There, Sara meets Jeffrey's mother and his high school friends, and she discovers that Jeffrey has more than his own share of skeletons in the closet. When one of Jeffrey's oldest friends is implicated in a shooting death the night of Sara and Jeffrey's arrival, and Jeffrey himself is brought up as a suspect in a newly unburied crime dating back to his high school days, Sara is forced to reevaluate her opinion of --- and her feelings for --- this tough-talking cop she has fallen for so hard.
As the narrative travels back and forth from past to present, the storyline never gets jumbled or confused. What could have become a mishmash of parallel stories instead comes together in a genuinely suspenseful climax, as three seemingly unrelated murders suddenly start to make sense together. And by revealing more about Sara and Jeffrey's past, Slaughter has greatly enhanced their appeal and emotional depth. As Jeffrey Tolliver lay bleeding on the police station floor, the reader will hope that these traumatic events can at least provide Sara with the same kind of emotional catalyst as the Sylacauga crime that brought her and Jeffrey together in the first place.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011