Hardback: 428 pages
Publication Date: 05/07/2012
It’s always a risk when an author decides to alter or experiment with a bestselling formula – especially in the crime genre. On the one hand, it can have a positive effect and freshen-up something that has become a little formulaic. Or, it can have the opposite effect, and show quite why a bestselling formula is exactly that.
So Karin Slaughter’s decision to split her new novel, Criminal, into two story arcs – each forty years apart – is certainly a risk, but one that, by-and-large, works incredibly well and once again delivers a compelling and suspenseful crime thriller.
When a woman is found savagely murdered [well, it is a Karin Slaughter novel, so if there wasn’t a savage murder then you would feel short-changed!] in a run-down Atlanta apartment, the circumstances of her death bear a startling similarity to the murder of a woman almost forty years before and forces many of her characters to confront their secret pasts and histories.
Central to it all is Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent and his supervisor, Amanda Wagner, and over the course of the novel their complex and strange relationship and history is explored in the greatest depth to date in the series and the major revelation at the book’s conclusion was certainly one of the highlights of the novel for me.
For years Slaughter has been dangling tantalising readers with bits and pieces from Will Trent’s past. Trent, dyslexic, and scarred physically and psychologically from years spent growing up in orphanages and on the streets, is one of the most fascinating characters in the contemporary crime fiction firmament. His destructive marriage to fellow orphan Angie Polaski has stopped Will from finding a meaningful relationship in the series, but, in Criminal, he has finally managed to find a semblance of happiness with another major series character, the beautiful and brilliant medical examiner, Sara Linton. But even as their relationship is beginning, it is threatened, both by Angie Polaski’s refusal to ‘lose’ Will and by Will’s own secrets – both his own and his family’s.
It’s difficult – and a task that I am not going to attempt – to try and go into too much depth on the plot and twists of Criminal, certainly without giving away any of the red herrings or twists that make up the novel. But one of the reasons that all of Criminal‘s revelations and twists work so well is because Slaughter is such a master at creating and maintaining a raft of brilliantly realised characters. She has become known – one could probably say infamous – for the brutality and gore of her books. However, in recent novels, it has become apparent that Slaughter’s books are far more than just gorily macabre killers. Yes, the killer’s methods and MO in Criminal is pretty unpleasant, but the novel is actually far more about the interplay of the characters and almost all of the suspense comes from the affects that they – and their actions – have upon one another.
If I had one minor criticism with Criminal it would be that – at least in the early stages of the novel – the balance between the ‘historical’ and contemporary story arcs didn’t completely work for me. I found that far more attention, certainly in the first half of the novel, seemed to be on the historical arc. And, as a fan of Will Trent and Sara Linton, and having waited a year to see their story evolving, I think that a part of me felt slightly grumpy that they were not the main focus of the first half of the book! But, I certainly couldn’t level that charge at the second half of the book, which was brilliantly engrossing and filled with twists and where the interplay between the two story arcs is wonderfully done.