Fallen by Karin Slaughter
Karin Slaughter likes a strong woman. Take one of her recurring characters, Special Agent Faith Mitchell, for whom she has created quite a backstory. Pregnant at 14, Faith mustered the fortitude to give birth to her son, complete high school, and later train to serve in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, where she eventually met her professional partner, Will Trent.
Not content with this degree of multitasking, by the time Slaughter opens her new novel, Fallen, she has given Faith a four-month-old daughter, who is cared for by her grandmother, retired Atlanta police chief Evelyn Mitchell, while Faith works.
Slaughter, true to form, makes the opening passages of her nearly 400-page tome count. Arriving home later than expected because of a meeting overrun, Faith exits her car to see a trail of blood leading to the front door, her infant daughter locked in the shed, and her mother’s gun missing from the shed safe. Minutes later, her home is filled with the bodies of local gang members and drug mules.
Evelyn, whose blood is at the scene, is nowhere to be found, and thanks to a curtain-twitching neighbour, questions emerge about what the ex-cop was really up to of a morning. Why was she leaving the house for hours each day with an Hispanic man with gang connections? And does it have anything to do with the corruption scandal that tainted members of her squad and forced her departure?
Fallen is less of a whodunit than a who-are-they. Regular Slaughter cast members Will Trent and Dr Sara Linton enter the fray to conduct the investigation, establish the identities of the dead men and help locate Evelyn, whose whereabouts are hinted at in brief, grisly scenes. Just as importantly for long-time readers, the pair continue their fraught but unconsummated liaison, complicated by Will’s unstable estranged wife and the ghost of Sara’s late husband, who was a prominent presence in earlier novels.
Slaughter has painstakingly developed the personalities of Faith, Sara, Will and others over 10 years’ worth of books, in her series set in the fictional Georgia region of Grant County. In an enlightening postscript to Fallen, she sheds some light on her reasoning for moving her characters to the big smoke of Atlanta: among them, that the rising number of grisly deaths in Grant County would beg the question of why anyone would continue to live there, and that the blank canvas of a large city was too rich for a writer to ignore.
Fallen isn’t her best work – despite her evident care, the plot feels flimsy and the pay-off, though plausible, is almost cynical. She is a writer of substance with a clear, fluid style, and it seems that with this outing, she has chosen to devote more energy to character growth than to the atypically pedestrian storyline. In particular, close calls for both Sara and Will appeared less important for plot purposes than for forcing each to confront their feelings.
Slaughter patently adores her characters, and takes some pride in planning their trajectories several novels ahead, leaving hints for readers as to what may come. The fictive potential of the city of Atlanta will be a test of this writer’s considerable skills.
3 / 5 stars: With character arcs to burn, this is one for the fans.
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