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Karin Slaughter - UnseenAuthor: Karin Slaughter

Title: Unseen

Publisher: Arrow

Paperback: 496 pages

ISBN: 978-0099571353

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 5/06/2014

After Criminal, Slaughter’s previous novel, which spent its majority exploring the historical past, Unseen sees a move back to present day Georgia – and with it a return to the complicated relationship of the focal characters of the series, Sara Linton and Will Trent.

Moving away from the usual environs of Atlanta, the novel takes place, for the most part, in Macon, Georgia, and reintroduces Sara’s nemesis, Lena Adams. When Lena and her husband, Jared Long (the son of Sara’s deceased husband – hence, in part, the antipathy between the two women), are attacked in their home by two bikers, Jared is shot and Lena must fight the would-be-assassins off. It is a brutal and extremely violent opening, with the use of a claw hammer being described in shuddering detail. But as Lena goes to deliver the coup de grâce she finds herself stopped by a third biker…Will Trent.

As is soon revealed to the reader, GBI agent (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Will has been working undercover in Macon after a tip from Lena, posing as a violent, motorcycle-riding ex-con named Bill Black. But he has decided to keep his whereabouts a secret from Sara (being that he is undercover, this isn’t a complete surprise. But when she is called by Jared’s mother and comes to be at his bedside, you know that Will’s silence is not going to end well for their nascent and dysfunctional relationship!).

What initially seems to be a simple home invasion is quickly shown to be part of a far wider and far darker investigation into a mysterious local kingpin referred to as ‘Big Whitey’ (being honest, this moniker isn’t really the most terrifying that you would expect from someone with a last name of Slaughter, but there you go!). And much of the plot proper arises in the aftermath of a high-target police raid that was led by Lena herself – flashback sequences are dotted throughout the novel, although Slaughter is careful to only include them as and when they are necessary to the development of the plot. Which allows her to drip-feed information – and revelations – to the reader. The one downside to this is that I sometimes felt that the flashbacks felt a little incongruous and slightly too plotted in their placement. But it was a problem that there isn’t really a solution to – other than having them all at the outset, which would ruin any form of suspense and mystery!

It is a complex plot and set-up and, being completely honest, I was a little confused at the outset as to exactly why Will and the GBI were involved. But as the chapters went by and more flashbacks were introduced, it began to get clearer, certainly in my own mind. So I’m not sure whether I just wasn’t paying enough attention when I started the novel, or whether the plot itself is a little confused (I will give the author the benefit of the doubt and blame it on myself!).

But the plot itself is somewhat of a backdrop for the main feast of the novel – the interrelationship between the various characters. As a big fan of Slaughter’s work, it has been interesting to see her style and novels develop. Her earlier books were marked for their extreme, almost over-the-top, violence. But her more recent novels feel more mature and emotionally connected, with their focus subtly shifting away from the crimes themselves to instead focus upon the characters. For me, the catalyst for this shift has been Will Trent.

Through his undercover persona of Black we see a different side to Will, one removed from his normal three-piece suits. You almost feel that it is the person that he would have been if he hadn’t gone into law enforcement. And his dysfunctional relationship with Sara and their inability to communicate with one another adds a further layer of intrigue to the book.

On a personal level I am still unsure about Sara Linton as a character. There is something about her that feels a little detached and icy and I have never totally liked her. But it was pleasing to see the return of the spiky Lena Adams – a character around whom chaos and violence seems to swirl effortlessly. Previously I have never really empathised with her as a character; she has, for the most part, been used as a lightning rod for Sara’s anger. But here she is far more interestingly drawn, and I found myself sympathising with her, especially with regards to the manner in which she is treated by Sara.

Undoubtedly all of the elements that I have mentioned in relation to the interactions between the characters – and their pasts – does require one to have read the previous novels in the series. However, that isn’t to say that someone couldn’t come to Unseen without having read any of Slaughter’s previous books. It is an addictive and well-written read, with Slaughter capturing the feel and crackling heat and violence of Georgia’s milieu. The narrative and dialogue are razor-sharp, with plenty of pace and twists along the way.

I did work out who ‘Big Whitey’ was quite a while before the big reveal, and the last chapters of the novel did feel a little too neat and perfect in terms of pulling everything together. But overall it was another strong addition to the series and a compelling and pacy read.
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