A few weeks ago, I was delighted to learn several friends and co-workers shared my love of Tony Hillerman’s novels, mysteries set in the American Southwest and featuring two Navajo Tribal Police officers.
As a bonus, I received a recommendation to check out the writing of Karin Slaughter, an Atlanta-based writer of crime novels set in Georgia. My co-worker suggested I might start with “Triptych,” the first in a series of six novels about a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent named Will Trent.
I headed to the public library, but they didn’t have it so I left with “Blindsighted,” which I later learned was the first in a series of six other novels set in fictitious Grant County. Turns out it also was Slaughter’s debut novel in 2001, a New York Times bestseller and nominee for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Best First Crime Novel.
Well, after breezing through that 434-page paperback novel, let me say this: It’s not what I expected.
There are plenty of positives: A strong sense of place in small-town Heartsland. Clear, muscular writing fortified by well-researched detail about medical and police procedures. Appealing lead characters in Dr. Sara Linton, the town’s pediatrician and corner, and Jeffrey Tolliver, the town’s police chief and Linton’s ex-husband. Solid pacing and careful plotting that kept me turning the pages, eager to see what would come next.
What I didn’t anticipate was the depth of sadism and sheer evil embodied by the killer and another suspect. I’m not particularly squeamish, but this book had me cringing at times. Slaughter (an appropriate name for a writer in this genre) conjures scenes involving torture of especially vulnerable women that go beyond anything I’ve read before. The words “diabolical” and “depraved” came to mind.
The first chapter opens with the grisly death of a blind college professor. The second victim is an emotionally unstable college student. The third and fourth victims? I won’t say.
I knew nothing about Slaughter going in. She’s astoundingly prolific, with 16 novels, 3 short story collections and 1 anthology to her credit — and she’s only 44. And she’s achieved international success, with her books available in 32 languages.
Perhaps I should have been patient and waited for “Triptych.” Starting out with “Blindsighted” was like jumping into a cold bath. It left me shivering and uncomfortable.
BTW, the book title comes from a word that means “The ability of a blind person to sense the presence of a light source.”
Consider that a hint as to where some of the torture scenes take place.
Photograph: Alison Rosa