I’m listening to Bon Jovi in the background as I review Karin Slaughter’s latest ‘shockbuster’ Unseen and there’s something in that. You can’t call Bon Jovi or Karin Slaughter edifying, let alone highbrow. But both are very good at what they do, their writing fast, thrilling and entertaining. Both enjoy wild popularity, too: globally, Bon Jovi have sold over 130 million records and Slaughter over 30 million books.
Unseen is the seventh novel (there’s also a novella) of a series featuring Georgia Investigations Bureau special agent Will Trent — though I didn’t find not having read the other books an obstacle to enjoying this one. Well, maybe ‘enjoying’ is not the right word.
With a name like Savage I’d be the last to suggest reading too much into surnames, but Slaughter does fit hers well. She doesn’t shy away from writing about the viscera of violence. Blood bubbles, brain matter spatters, vomit roils, bowels loosen. People get get killed with guns, knives, axes, hammers, and others probably wished they’d been killed. Children get hurt, too, though mercifully, readers witness only the aftermath, not the act.
‘There’s a lot of graphic sex and violence, so you won’t be disappointed,’ says Slaughter of her novel Skin Privilege in a video clip on her website. She could say the same of Unseen.
In the opening chapter, Jared Long, a motorcycle cop with the Macon police, gets shot in the house he shares with wife Lena Adams, also of the Macon PD (and a character from Slaughter’s Grant County series). Lena, who with the aid of a hammer narrowly avoids being killed herself, believes the attack is related to a raid she led a week earlier on an isolated shooting gallery. The account of the raid, told in flashbacks, was aimed at arresting a local drug dealer and exposing a brutal criminal mastermind known as Big Whitey.
To complicate matters, Jared is the son of Lena’s former partner, Jeffrey Tolliver, the Grant County Police chief killed in the line of duty. And Tolliver’s widow is Dr Sara Linton (though Jared is not her son), the paediatrician and part-time coroner who is now dating special agent Will Trent. Sara has always blamed Lena for her husband’s death and assumes the attack on Jared is Lena’s fault, too.
Meanwhile, Trent is working undercover on a case that puts him on a collision course with Lena’s investigation and the attempt on Jared’s life, desperately hoping that Sara doesn’t discover the connection.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it takes over 400 pages to unravel these complexities, but Slaughter brings all the loose ends together. And while I didn’t buy the denouement (which I can’t describe without massive spoilers), thrillers like this work best if you suspend disbelief. This is action-packed escapism, complete with an ensemble cast of characters both appealing and evil.
I read Unseen to review it for Radio National Books and Arts. I can’t say whether I’d read another Karin Slaughter novel in a hurry, although I note that her ‘The Unremarkable Heart’ (in Vengeance) has just taken home this year’s Edgar for the best short story. I might read that, seeing as how I loved the 2013 Edgar Awards winner for best novel, Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night.
But for now I’ve got some Bon Jovi to listen to.
Unseen by Karin Slaughter (2013) is published by Random House in Australia.