Karin Slaughter – “Triptych”

Gravitas.

Substance, weightiness. Heft.

At a recent writing workshop, a mystery editor listed Karin Slaughter as one of the authors she reads and enjoys. “There’s something kind of warped going on there,” she said. “She’s very good.”

Triptych carries the weight. It’s big and messy, in a good way. And yes, it’s a bit warped. You don’t feel like the story is in the hands of the writer, it’s in the hands of the characters and their very real, terribly tangible situation. This is not writing for flash, this is writing for story and the story is all character. Tangled? Quite a bit. Triptych feels shaggy, unkempt and free-flowing. Slaughter delivers a sense that are events are out of control, not being guided by her. There are no buried sonnets here, just story-telling.

There are plenty of good examples of cross-gender writers but certainly Karin Slaughter would be Exhibit No. 1, although here she has multiple points of view, both male and female, in this story involving murdered prostitutes, stolen identities, severed (bitten off) tongues, infidelity and personal entanglements.

The overall flavor is raw, in case that’s not already apparent. Without her name on the jacket, I think most readers would guess the author was male—and that’s a good thing.

“I think we write like twenty-first century women,” Slaughter said in an interview on Psychotic State.  “We talk about social issues. We tackle violence—especially violence against women—in a frank way. We are no more or no less violent than men, but because we’re women, and women should only write romances or books where cats knit for their Amish owners, the subject matter of our books is more often than not exclaimed over.”  (Slaughter puts herself alongside other writers such as Mo Hayder, Tess Gerritsen and Denise Mina.  I can’t speak to the others but think the Hayder comparison is a good one.)

 The setting is a gritty, troubled Atlanta and the main character is Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  We are told his role is “purely advisory,” to help local law enforcement agencies apprehend violent criminals. Trent carries the story but Slaughter adds heft and weight by not giving short shrift to the vice cop, Angie Pulaski, and the ex-con, John Shelley. Trent and Angie have history. Trent has a secret. (It seems everyone is in some sort of trap or has a hole to dig out of.)  After the initial set-up, in fact, Slaughter isn’t afraid to spend a few chapters with Shelley and this section gives the whole plot an underlying Patricia Highsmith vibe.

Sunny, perfect people don’t exist. Flaws abound.  Triptych is part police procedural and part real people sorting out and sorting through real problems and dealing with the real cards they’ve been dealt.  The procedural part, in fact, fades away and the question turns to how the killer will be caught.  The tension fades a bit.  I wasn’t too worried at the end when Angie was temporarily “confused” about the man behind the mask.

The apprehension is every bit as violent—and messy—as the set-up. The final encounter you’ve seen or read many times before, but you will feel it because of all the gravity and weightiness that has come before.

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