CRIMINAL, Karin Slaughter, Delacorte, 2012, $27.00
CRIMINAL is the latest in the Will Trent series from Karin Slaughter. (The others are Triptych, Fracture, Undone, Broken, Fallen, and Snatched.) The "emotional autopsy" it offers of dyslexic and scrappy investigator Will Trent rips open many of the part-healed wounds on this long-running character. Cutting new ground for the series, CRIMINAL rocks back and forth between the 1970s -- when Slaughter's female leads Amanda Wagner (Will's boss in the "now" of the series) and Wagner's partner Evelyn Mitchell were among the handful of women pioneers in the city's rough, racist, and blatantly sexist police force -- and today, when Amanda's abrupt orders and detours forced on Will suggest she's punishing him. Or protecting him.
For more than 400 pages, Slaughter spins a two-generation epic of the Atlanta investigators. Her taut narrative paints with a knife tip the look of harrassed and tortured women, then and now. With consummate craft, Slaughter opens a window into Amanda Wagner's past, her naive embrace of police work, her father's near-unbearable pressure to protect her in the force -- yet keeps the present-day female head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation shuttered, mysterious, and nail-bitingly frustrating to Will as he staggers around the edges of a serial murder sequence that he knows far too well -- it matches what he's seen and investigated years before. Matches it exactly. So why won't Amanda Wagner let him work the case?
Ramping the tension further is the question of whether Will's survival from a nightmare infancy and a harsh childhood has room in it for emotional attachment to a young doctor, Sara Linton, who seems to be more easily allowed into his boss's life than his own.
Remember those fat novels that took you through generations of family in the Australian Outback? CRIMINAL has just as much emotional resonance -- in only two time periods, forty years ago and now. And you know the endless sexual harrassment faced by officers Rizzoli and Isles in Tess Gerritsen's books and in Patricia Cornwall's forensic epics? CRIMINAL digs deeper by calling up the vicious anti-women stances of "men's work" in the 1970s, when Civil Rights legislation allowed women a way to squeeze into the openings being demanded for men of color.
Most of all, most important, CRIMINAL provides a tense rapid pace, sharp twists of plot, and characters whose hope of redemption depends squarely on whether the crimes taking place can be solved and the criminals successfully brought to justice.
Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books, Waterford, VT, http://kingdombks.blogspot.com