Indelible by Karin Slaughter

Before I plunge into my review of Karin Slaughter’s new novel, I thought I’d exorcise a few demons about reviewing. A few months ago I tried an earlier work by this author called BLINDSIGHTED. I couldn’t get into it. At first I blamed Ms. Slaughter, then I wondered if I was simply in the wrong frame of mind. INDELIBLE arrived at my doorstep in a battered box from NYC. Books tumbled out of the box like marathon runners at the finish line. I’d spoken to the publicist at Harper Collins and hemmed and hawed about INDELIBLE. I didn’t think I was going to like it. I’m too busy. The TBR pile looms. The volcano is erupting a few miles up the road; molten lava, man. That’s a valid excuse for distraction, isn’t it?

INDELIBLE opens with a powerful scene. Two armed men invade a small town police station. Local kids are on a tour of the station; the gunmen kill a deputy, shoot another. Sara Linton is trapped inside with her gravely wounded ex-husband Jeffrey Tolliver. Sara is the town’s pediatrician as well as the coroner; she’s cool under fire, but shocked by the mayhem unfolding before her.

Lena Adams is a detective dreading her first day back on the job. Her boyfriend is pressuring her to see her that night. Lena walks into the nightmare and is told that Jeff Tolliver has been killed.

Sylacauga Alabama is Jeff Tolliver’s hometown. Sara flashes back to a road trip with Jeffrey a decade earlier. On the way to Florida, he detours for an overnight stay in his hometown. The trip becomes a nightmare, especially for Sara. Jeff’s mother is horrible, his father’s in jail. Terrible secrets come to light after a shooting death embroils Sara in Jeff’s past.

Karin Slaughter covers a lot of ground in this novel. Her style is direct and the action blunt and sometimes disquieting. She defies convention in her non-linear approach; after the set-up she takes us back in time and keeps us there while she reveals the events in Jeffrey’s life that challenge Sara’s faith in him and her own understanding of love.

The novel works best when told from Sara’s point of view. Jeff and Lena are less reliable narrators, by design, not from lack of skill. INDELIBLE moves quickly, its plot derived from the theme Sara ponders throughout the narrative. What is love? How do we know it when we feel it, how do we explain that unique reaction to someone else that often dictates what we do?

Karin Slaughter takes the social order apart with precision and purpose; she wants to show us the consequences of actions taken years earlier. She succeeds, and when her narratives of past and present converge, you’ll be sorry the ride is over.