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Broken by Karin Slaughter

My introduction to the scintillating crime scribe Karin Slaughter came with the re-release of her 2003 novel A Faint Cold Fear. Like that book, her new work Broken is part of her well-established series set in the fictional Grant County in Slaughter’s native Georgia, where she still lives.

This book, like its predecessors, centre on the crime investigation activities of Will Trent, special agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; Sara Linton, the former Grant County medical examiner who relocated to Atlanta following a personal tragedy; and Lena Adams, a local police detective.

Former books in the series starred Jeffrey Tolliver, Sara’s husband and the chief of police. Jeffrey died in an incident for which Lena bears some responsibility and, four years on, Sara remains desolate and embittered. She has undeniable chemistry with Will, a brilliant detective who was raised in foster homes and battles daily with the triple burden of his childhood memories, severe dyslexia and an emotionally unavailable wife, whom he has loved since boyhood. Lena is similarly tormented and events early in the novel serve only to intensify her anguish.

Clearly, the title refers to Sara, Will and Lena as much as the novel’s plot. It could be argued that in crime writing, there is nothing new under the sun, and rather than try to craft an impossibly ground-breaking storyline, Slaughter focuses the tale on her characters. Thus, the suspense lies as much in how they will resolve their predicaments as in how they will solve the crimes.

Said crimes involve a university student, Alison Spooner, and her boyfriend, Jason Howell. Both are found murdered, with a peculiar wound indicating a common killer. Meanwhile, an intellectually handicapped local man apprehended for the Spooner murder commits suicide in his cell – but the circumstances of his arrest and the timing of his death raise questions about the propriety of the investigating officers’ conduct, and Will is quick to pick at the fabric of the carefully constructed explanations of Lena and her superior.

Slaughter refrains from overt political comment – rarely a sexy feature in a crime drama – but anyone who grew up in a small town in the South, as Slaughter did, and has seen as much of the world as she now has would struggle to remain entirely dispassionate. That one of the victims was a young white woman who worked in a diner owned by an older black man is a matter remarked upon, in less than refined terms, by the book’s most loathsome and pitiful character – who also happens to be Tolliver’s replacement as police chief.

It serves as a gentle reminder that for all the famed politeness and gentility of Southerners, there is a darkness just below the surface, and for the purposes of stimulating, character-driven crime fiction, Grant County is blacker than most.

Like all good modern writers in her genre, she makes a specialty of research, as evidenced by the lengthy list of acknowledgements (including of one of her finest contemporaries, Mo Hayder, and that writer’s recent forays into the murky world of forensic diving).

The topic at the heart of the plot is one target of Slaughter’s exhaustive enquiries and serves, when combined with the cleverness of her characterization, to leave the reader quite rapt.

Previously reviewed on

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones


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