Review: Unseen

Unseen UK coverI’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.

Click here for the podcast of my review of this book on Radio National Books & Arts Daily, 30 May 2013

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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5 Responses to Review: Unseen

  1. Angela – I just love the way you’ve woven your comments about Bon Jovi into this review! A master stroke if you ask me. I have to confess to not being much into this sort of novel. I don’t like that much explicit gore, but more to the point, I think I have more trouble suspending my disbelief than some readers do. I think that’s why I’m really particular about the thrillers I like. If you do read another Karin Slaughter story I’ll be interested in your reaction to it.

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    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks for that feedback on my review, Margot. In all honesty, Unseen is not my kind of novel either. But I recognise when someone is good at what they do, and Slaughter has violent, action-packed thrillers down pat.

      And as a Bon Jovi tragic, far me it from me to question popular tastes 😉

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  2. kathy d. says:

    Bon Jovi is one thing, but Karin Slaughter’s books are another. I read two and after having to recover from some of the most violent, gory killings and beatings — of women, no less — I had to conclude she’s true to her name and I’m out of the fan club.
    Obviously, she appeals to many readers or her series wouldn’t have continued and successfully.
    I don’t know what is the allure of the bloody violence in Slaughter’s or other writers’ books. I want character development, descriptions of locations, a feel for the people in the area and a good mystery, but not a gorefest.

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    • angelasavage says:

      I would have guessed you weren’t a fan of Slaughter (or slaughter), Kathy. I don’t much understand the attraction of graphic violence and gore in crime fiction either, but it sure sells books.

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  3. kathy d. says:

    And your second sentence up there scares me. I agreed completely with the late, eminent blogger and crime fiction reviewer, Maxine Clark, who said that it frightened her to contemplate who likes this type of book and why. Who are these readers?
    I don’t know anyone who likes this type of book, especially women readers.
    I think Jayne Keeney’s adventures are just the right balance of story, location, character development, dialogue. They are interesting. One cannot put the books down. And one learns something in the process about social issues in another country than one’s own.
    There is nothing to be learned in these books except how some human beings can sadistically torment others, especially women and have no empathy at all.
    Isn’t it bad enough to see paychopaths on the TV news? Here in the U.S., we see three young women just freed in Cleveland, Ohio from 10 years of relentless brutality, way beyond most of our comprehension. Why would anyone then want to read this in books that are read for diversion, distraction and entertainment? I do not get it.

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