by Sharon Tucker
Is it a compliment for a woman to be told that she writes like a man? A percentage of mystery novels written by women do concern the like of craft shops, designer coffee emporiums, and talking pets. So a female author who writes complex police /medical procedurals, creates imaginative serial killers/rapists, and doesn’t go all demure writing sex scenes must write “like a man.”
Nonsense, men write about the fluffier side of murder and mayhem too, you know.
In further defiance of stereotype, Slaughter’s writing style is uncluttered, never cute though often humorous, stark but never naturalistic. She dares to detail aberrant areas of human behavior across the spectrum, yet is in top form when peopling Grant County, Georgia with full-bodied, breathing characters. Her novels have been compared to those of Thomas Harris and Patricia Cornwell for their unflinching treatment of human aberration and refusal to look away from the worst in us. However, Slaughter does obey some rules of the mystery genre called “cozy.” She writes about a select group of people, the resolving of murder(s), and a return to the natural order is inherent in her Grant County, Will Trent, and Georgia series. Each novel’s major plot is brought to a conclusion difficult to predict but seldom tidily.
Slaughter published the first of her Grant county series, Blindsighted, in 2001 and her first Will Trent novel, Triptych, in 2006. The two storylines merged into the Georgia series by 2009 in Undone. Her four novels in this series have, lead readers most recently to Unseen, published this summer in July.
Blindsighted begins with a murder in Heartsdale, Georgia, stumbled onto by pediatrician/coroner, Sara Linton. As the plot develops and more women disappear, Linton’s past, both in Heartsdale and in Atlanta, becomes a key to the present, hiding a piece of the puzzle she must recall to not only solve the murders but to survive. Jeffrey Tolliver, sheriff of Heartsdale, and Lena Adams, his volatile deputy, round out the trio of major characters in this first group of Slaughter’s novels. How these characters function in the plot, only to prove dysfunctional with each other is the beauty of the novels. Tolliver is an admirable man and a responsible sheriff, but his past, particularly with Linton keeps getting in the way. Adams is too close to the first murder to be part of the investigation, but cannot stay out of it. This trio and those close to them people a world uniquely Southern with attributes to envy and detriments to loathe.
The jump ahead 12 years to Unseen is challenging. Not all of Slaughter’s main characters in the Georgia novels people Unseen, and to make matters worse, those present have learned precious little along the way. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Will Trent are now a part of the landscape, broadening the spectrum of what Slaughter has to play with in terms of plotting and character development. The reader soon learns that Trent excels at undercover work and here he is masquerading as an ex-convict biker. He has assumed the walk, the talk, and mien of an outlaw to investigate the upsurge of drugs coming into Georgia via Florida. The kingpin of this drug trade is so well placed somewhere along the route and is so invisible as to be beyond reach—so far. Trent’s investigation runs headlong into the lives of Sara Linton and Lena Adams via his involvement in a home invasion and shooting, yet Trent must somehow maintain his cover, lying to the woman he has come to love, if he is to pursue his investigation. Here a policeman is gunned down in front of Lena, but she strikes back in her own inimitable fashion and in doing so a bond is formed between her and Trent that threatens them both. The cardinal theme in Unseen is trust: how to maintain it in the face of deception.
Small town Southern life in Slaughter’s writing has seldom been captured as fully and with as much truth. The South is still a part of America where peace is often tenuous, and that peace is all too often bought at a high price. In these novels, as it is in the South, the past is ever present—tense and potentially violent. Slaughter’s characters can never escape their past, much like their namesakes the Lintons and Earnshaws of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Now really, did Slaughter think no one noticed?
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