Saturday, April 26, 2008

Good Reads :: An Invitation to Slaughter.

Loyal readers are sometimes a little leery when their favorite authors stray out of their comfort zones. And as an unabashed fan of Karin Slaughter's Grant County series of books (-- five novels so far about small town coroner Sara Linton) I'll admit I was more than a little tepid when I learned her next book would be leaving those friendly confines for the mean streets of Atlanta. As a former a former Patricia Cornwell fan -- before she went completely off the rails about seven novels ago, when she ditched Scarpetta to go play in Lucy-Land -- you can understand the gravity of my concerns.

I needn't have worried.

Slaughter is about only one of a handful of authors of whom I would even consider buying in hardback. However, her latest novel, Triptych, was long ago relegated to "It can wait until paperback" status. That's when I found myself in the local book store, and I'd just polished off both of Jeff Lindsay's Dexter Morgan novels, and my reading pile was dangerously low, and it was 20% off and -- ah, what the hell:

When a series of brutal rape/murders rock the Atlanta area -- that are gruesomely linked by the fact that the victim's tongues are being bitten off -- Detectives Michael Ormwood and Angie Polaski, and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, Will Trent, are charged to hunt down and bring the killer to justice. Also along for the ride is recent parolee John Shelley, whose incarceration 20 years ago resulted from a grisly crime very similar to the ones occurring now.

As with her previous novels, the author unfolds events from several different character's perspectives. And one of Slaughter's greatest strengths is her ability to define her characters -- and all of them tend to be fundamentally flawed in some way. Triptych is no different. As the novel's title suggests, your views will change on these characters, drastically, depending on whose perspective we're viewing them from. And appearances prove to be very deceiving; no one seems to be as they first appear. And as you get deeper and deeper into the book, we don't know who to sympathize or empathize with.

We open with Ormwood and his marital problems -- and his resulting adultery (-- including a sour encounter with Polaski.) There's also history between Polaski and Trent, both damaged goods, and both bring a lot of baggage to the romance pile. And then there's Shelley, whose lawless teen drug-fueled days came to a screeching halt with him raping and killing a cheerleader, waking up out of his cocaine haze beside the corpse in a pool of her blood. He's convicted, and though spared the death penalty, retribution is soon coming from his fellow cons once he's in prison. (And I don't think I need to draw a picture here.) Shelley always claimed he was innocent and couldn't remember what happened that fateful night. Finally paroled, Shelley will do anything to stay out of prison. And things really start to get interesting when he finds out that while in prison he was the victim of identity theft.

Truthfully, all of these characters seem to have something to hide; and will these closeted skeletons torpedo the investigation and allow the killer to kill again? Who am I to spoil it. Anyways, as far as mysteries go, it isn't really all that hard to figure out whodunit, but I honestly don't think that's the point. The true strength of the novel is the Hitchcockian "Wrong-Man" set-up, where, as a reader, you know what's going on and read helplessly while clues are missed, a frame-up slowly clicks into place, and the truth is tantalizing dangled in front of characters who just need to ask one more question to unravel things. But what fun is that?

As Hitchcock himself once proposed ... What is more suspenseful to an audience? A scene were someone is searching a room for a suitcase with bomb in it; or a scene where someone is in a room oblivious to the fact that there is a bomb in the suitcase over in the corner?

Your answer to that question will gauge how well you'll enjoy Triptych as it barrels toward it's fairly predictable conclusion. Me ... I fall in the second category and enjoyed the heck out of it, and I can honestly say to all Slaughter fans that Triptych will definitely tied you over until her new Grant novel, Beyond Reach, debuts sometime in '07.

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