Fallen, by Karin Slaughter

Another fast-paced gore-fest from a Southern stalwart.

After a routine training-day Special Agent Faith Mitchell returns to pick up her infant daughter from her mother’s house and finds herself in a bloody shambles.  Though the baby has been safely hidden, her ex-cop Mom has vanished with her gun, leaving a body and a trail of gore.  Within minutes, Faith has added another two corpses to a pile that will keep on growing until her mother’s long-kept secret is finally revealed.

In the Acknowledgments attached to a previous chapter of her long-running saga of murder and mayhem in Grant County, GA, Karin Slaughter thanks one of her sources with a sentence that only she could write:

I will never fire a shotgun again without thinking of our lovely day outside the women’s prison.

Only two fictional genres include central characters who live on from tale to tale: crime and the family saga.  Usually they keep their distance.  But when the relationship-issues that seem to be as much a part of a cop’s kit as his or her gun and cuffs need too much explaining for new readers, crime collides with soap and the result can be a mess. Here at least four main characters plus the kidnap victim come loaded with so much past angst that their back-story overwhelms the plot.

Even Slaughter’s long-term fans may find Fallen a bit of a dip, though those who relish the romance above the body-count will enjoy developments in the on-going will-they/won’t-they romance between Faith’s cop partner (dyslexic, chihuahua-owning hunk Will Trent) and Sara Linton (cop-widow and coroner).  And perhaps loyal readers will bring with them the setting and the weather that are oddly absent here.  We’re supposed to be in Georgia, but where’s the foetid, feral miasma of the Southern woods?  Where’s the rain that drenched Broken?  We could be anywhere.

Not that there isn’t lots to enjoy. The opening chapter of Fallen is a masterclass in building anxiety.  Slaughter’s gin-clear prose whips us along at a cracking pace.  New and incidental characters are vividly introduced and efficiently disposed of.  When one of the numerous bad guys takes ‘the impact of a .223-caliber 55-grain full metal jacket to the chest’ he pops up ‘seconds later like a Toaster Strudel’.

Then there’s Slaughter’s lightly-worn expertise.  Not just routine stuff about bullets and blood splatter.  Hands up who knew that in the US stolen money is treated as taxable income?  Slaughter reminds us that ‘most inmates [get] their notice from the IRS within the first week of their prison sentence’.  Does that happen here?  It might make a small dent in the deficit.  And were you familiar with the 2001 NHTSA requirement that every car should have a ‘glow-in-the-dark emergency release strap’ installed in the trunk?  It’s quirky little nuggets like these which fool us into thinking we are in the hands of an utterly reliable narrator – even though we know that crime writers swear an oath to their guild to keep us in the dark.

Much can be forgiven a writer who describes CSU techs in their white Tyvek suits looking  like ‘various sizes of soiled marshmallows’.  Slaughter is too much of a pro not to return to form.  But new readers should not start here.

Karin Slaughter: Fallen; Century, 2011

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