Book review: Genesis by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter’s Skin Privilege (Beyond Reach in the US), sixth in the Grant county series featuring Sarah Linton, ended with a shock. The author followed the book with Fractured, set in the same state but about different characters – mainly Special Agent Will Trent and police detective Faith Mitchell. Slaughter’s latest novel, Genesis (Publisher: Century; US title, Undone) combines these series by introducing these characters to each other.
   Since we last encountered her, Sarah has left her previous job as Grant county coroner, sold her paediatrics practice, and is now working crazy hours in Grady hospital ER. An elderly couple driving home hit what they first think is a deer leaping out into the road, but soon realise that they have, in fact, collided with a young woman. Other motorists stop to help and the traumatised victim is taken to hospital, to be treated by Sarah. It is immediately apparent that the patient has been brutally tortured, including being blinded, and has been starved for many days. As investigators of the crime, Will and Faith meet Sarah – who rapidly finds herself with another, unexpected patient – Faith.
   The main plot of the book concerns Will and Faith’s attempts to discover who was responsible for the appalling ordeal that “Anna”, as they think the woman is called, has suffered – Will discovers the cave in the woods where she and another woman were held, and realises the adversary is a very sick and dangerous person. At the same time, he and Faith have to cope with interdepartmental rivalries which compromise their ability to do their job.
   Anna herself is drifting in and out of consciousness, but after a couple of days is able to ask Sarah what has become of her baby son. Will and Faith rush to Anna’s apartment, which turns out to be the scene of another crime – one which Angie, Will’s estranged wife, and her low-life contacts have previously tipped him off about but which he has ignored in his attempts to escape Angie’s influence.
   In the meantime, a woman disappears from a supermarket car park, leaving her six-year-old son terrified in the back of her car. The detectives realise that their only chance of finding the woman is to uncover what happened to Anna, but Anna is not interested in helping. Another woman disappears, and all the victims seem to be connected by their membership of an online anorexia group.
   Despite these and other events, the book is told at an extremely slow pace, focusing on the thoughts and insecurities of the three main characters as they wrestle with their various inadequacies (not revealed here because of spoilers). One has a strange sense reading the novel that events are going on somewhere else while Will, Faith and Sarah ruminate and agonise over their various personal dilemmas. Another annoying aspect of this writing style is that nothing much happens in the characters' personal lives between the start and the end of each book – Sarah for example spends the whole book wondering whether or not to read a letter; Will's dyslexia is (constantly) overdramatically presented; a look between two characters is picked over rather than going anywhere; and we know far too much about Faith’s angst-ridden reactions to her own domestic/personal situation with no resolution or direction to move things along. The most dynamic, and sharply individual, character is Amanda, Faith and Will’s boss, who always drives the plot forward whenever she appears– introspection is not her style and all the scenes in which she appears are fresh, crisp and provide direction.
   The book picks up towards the end as Will finally interviews a missing witness and begins to put all the pieces together. The climax is exciting, but there are quite a few holes in the plot, and of course in the interests of tension Will and Faith separately break several “detective 101” rules that any seasoned reader of crime fiction will realise way in advance mean big trouble, and so are merely irritating rather than adding to the suspense.
   My main problem with this book is its obsession with its sick subject matter. I don’t mind reading strong stuff, but to my mind there isn’t enough detection, pace or plot to compensate for too many gratuitously disgusting details, sometimes going as far as “torture porn” and pointless sensationalism. Karin Slaughter is a talented author – Triptych is right up there with the best thrillers currently being written, being a cracking and involving story. She needs to drop the clunky Patricia Cornwell/Thomas Harris-like direction she seems to be moving into (agonising and gruesome), and stick to what she does best, which is to write about a group of professionals, police and medical, coping with some of the stresses and adventures of modern low life.

Read the first chapter of Genesis free online.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this book.