Kisscut, Karin Slaughter, Harper Torch, $7.99.
Karin Slaughter isn't going to be any kind of well kept secret within the mystery community for too much longer - her books are too good. Kisscut, her second outing, is a delicious combination of Jonathan Kellerman and Jeffrey Deaver at their best. She's as masterful at suspense, psychology, and twists as those two writers, and she's wrapped her stories up in the two volatile and interesting characters of Sara Linton - pediatrician and medical examiner - and Jeffrey Tolliver, the police chief. Sara and Jeffrey used to be married, which adds to the tension between them. The talented Slaughter has also tossed in the tormented character of Lena Adams, a sharp detective on Jeffrey's force who has suffered a terrible personal trauma and is not finding the best ways to deal with it. (The first book, Blindsighted, details the trauma, but it's not really necessary to have read that one first).
Kisscut opens with a teenage girl threatening to shoot a teenage boy in the parking lot of the local roller rink - the outcome leaves Jeffrey feeling shaky and unsure of himself, until he begins to peel away the layers of what at first had seemed to be a straightforward case. This book is nowhere near as almost disgustingly gory as Blindsighted - and I know the violence in the first novel put some readers off - but the crime uncovered is still horrifying. While Slaughter doesn't go into the gruesome details, the psychological aftermaths are what snag the reader - and the unfortunate characters in the story, too. What's great about Karin Slaughter is her writing - she writes beautifully about the small Georgia town of Heartsdale where Sara and Jeffrey live, about life in the south, and about Sara and Jeffrey themselves. You never totally approve of either of their actions or the way they treat each other, and that's what makes them so interesting - they act like actual flawed humans that you might actually meet or even know. The character of Lena is especially well done, and I'm eager to read the third installment, A Faint Cold Fear, to see what Slaughter has done with the character. I'm sure it will be interesting.
The story in this book was just as riveting - and far, far more horrifying - than the characters. I wasn't sure what would happen next or what Jeffrey and Sara might uncover. I just knew I was definitely along for the whole ride, and I don't think anyone else would regret the journey. If you enjoyed the intensity of Jonathan Kellerman's early books (but wished the prose was better) or the twisting, clever plots of Jeffrey Deaver (but wished they weren't so emotionally cold), Karin Slaughter is the writer for you.
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