Indelible, Karin Slaughter, William Morrow, $24.95.
This is one of the best books of the year, and a true delight because Slaughter, a talented writer, has improved with each book, and this one is practically perfect. Her first novel, Blindsighted, while packed with wonderful writing, memorable characters and a terrific plot, had some stomach churning violence that put some readers off. The second one, Kisscut, while also explicitly violent, was not as horrific, and in the third, A Faint Cold Fear, was toned down a bit more. Not that these novels are soft in any sense of the word, but like Val McDermid, Slaughter is focusing on her very strong writing skills and characterizations. And McDermid is the writer Slaughter most resembles. Though Slaughter's novels are set in rural Georgia and McDermid's in London, both locations are so well detailed you can easily envision them and understand the lives of the people who live there. Slaughter's stable of characters are among the more memorable in mystery at the moment - and I especially like them because they're flawed, just like real people. Her protaganist, pediatrician/medical examiner Sara Linton, is commitment phobic even though her ex, Jeffrey Tolliver, the town police chief, is almost perfect (he just cheated on Sara when they were married). Jeffrey's deputy, Lana, is also a complex character - in the first novel, such terrible things happen to her that it's a wonder she can still cross the street, much less report for work - she's suffering and it shows. You often want to reach into the pages and either shake her or help her out somehow. All three of these characters are fully developed by the time we as readers get to Indelible, but there's more to come. Jeffrey and Sara's backstory is interwoven with a hostage story in the present, and it's difficult to say which is the more compelling.
In the present, Sara is stopping by to see Jeffrey at the police station when the whole station is taken hostage, shots are fired, and the whole town is mobilized to try and resolve the situation. In the past, Sara is remembering when she and Jeffrey had just met, and she'd accompanied him to his boyhood home before heading for Florida for a vacation. The things that happen in the past inform who Sara and Jeffrey are in the present, and remarkably, it isn't necessary to have read any of the other books to understand and appreciate this one. Some of the suspense is heartstopping, and Lana plays a huge role here. After some real floundering in books one through three Lana seems to come into her own, and as a reader I was delighted, and as a discerning reader I was even more so, as the change is a believable one, and very hard earned.
These are some of the best novels, crime or otherwise, being written at the moment - they're thoughtful, they're beautifully told, they're peopled with extraordinary characters, and they're incredibly well plotted. This book is especially good as it unites the emotional baggage of the characters with the suspense and drama of a wonderful mystery. Come Edgar time this should be in the best novel category, though since it's neither a P.I. novel nor written by an Englishwoman I don't expect to see it there. Edgar or no, this is more than worth a read.
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