While out walking though the woods, Sara and Jeffrey get more than they bargained for when they come across the body of a young woman trapped inside a wooden box buried in the ground. An autopsy reveals the girl was pregnant when she died, and when she is later identified as being the granddaughter of Thomas Ward, a local preacher, Jeffrey has difficulty getting information when the family close ranks.
Sara is disturbed when her sister, Tessa, reveals she has been attending Ward’s church but she is even more shocked when she discovers her mother had an affair with Thomas Ward. When Tessa casually comments on how much Sara looks like Thomas’s son, Lev, Sara doesn’t know what to think. Was her mother lying when she claimed the affair was never physical and could Thomas be Sara’s father?
As if Sara doesn’t have enough to worry about a second box is uncovered, with evidence of a previous occupant, and then Abby’s younger sister, Becca, suddenly goes missing and the race is on to find her before her mother loses another child.
Faithless is the fifth instalment of the Grant County series which focuses on cases being investigated by medical examiner, Sara Linton, and her ex-husband, Jeffrey Tolliver. Both Sara and Jeffrey are still recovering from the events in Indelible where Jeffrey almost died after being shot, however just as things are getting back on an even keel, Jeffrey’s past indiscretion comes back to haunt him when the woman in question tells him she has hepatitis and he needs to get tested. Since the shooting, Jeffrey has practically moved back in with Sara, so this is a very untimely reminder of how their marriage ended, but a walk in the woods to clear the air uncovers a hidden horror.
Jeffrey and Sara accidentally stumble over a wooden box which has been buried underground, and when they open it, they find the body of a young girl. Understandably horrified by the discovery, Sara carries out an autopsy which reveals the girl was asphyxiated when cyanide was released into the box and that she was also pregnant. The girl is later identified as Abigail Bennett, granddaughter of Thomas Ward, the head of a religious family who run a farm offering sanctuary to criminals and other vagrants who want a fresh start, all of which leaves Jeffrey with plenty of suspects.
Initially, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a typical story of a religious cult, however Slaughter is much better than that and we are introduced to a family with old fashioned values who just want to save souls. There are always a few rotten apples though and while Jeffrey discovers Abby was about to run away with the father of her child, the young man manages to flee but is later found dead. The Ward family are an intriguing bunch with the women very firmly cast in the role of subservient homemakers while the men rule the roost, however it is evident there are a lot of secrets beneath the surface. Unfortunately, Jeffrey’s investigation is thwarted by the fact the farm is actually under the jurisdiction of the neighbouring sheriff’s department and they don’t like interference.
Jeffrey is at his best in this novel though and he isn’t going to let a little thing like jurisdiction get in his way, particularly as he has already promised Abby’s mother he will bring his daughter’s killer to justice. Jeffrey seems far more vulnerable in this investigation, yet you never lose confidence in his ability to get the job done despite his misplaced trust in Lena Adams who remains a thorn in his side. While this novel balances out Lena’s personal and professional sides a whole lot better, I still fail to see why Jeffrey has so much faith in her, particularly since she seems to have no faith in herself. Lena is her own worst enemy, blaming everyone else for her misfortunes, and refusing to take responsibility for her own self-destructive behaviour. Sorry, but I just cannot find anything worth redeeming in this character and she just makes my teeth itch.
Sara’s professional life takes more of a backseat in this novel to allow Jeffrey to shine, so there is more focus on the Linton family and thanks to the interference of Aunt Bella, Sara starts to wonder if she was conceived as a result of her mother’s affair with Thomas Ward. Intrigued, Sara attends a church meeting with Tessa where she meets Thomas for the first time although he is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke. Instead of asking her mother for the truth, because that would be too easy, Sara tries to piece together information herself, but her mother does find out eventually and there is a telling confrontation. I love the whole Linton family dynamic, especially when it comes to Jeffrey, and how their disapproval often softens during a crisis so it is clear they still love him despite the hurt he has caused their daughter. The relationship has been so up and down, Sara is now the one facing her family’s scorn for stringing Jeffrey along when it is so clear he loves her!
Faithless ends on a very upbeat note for Sara and Jeffrey, however knowing what’s coming, it just makes it all the harder to accept.