With its gracious homes and tree-lined streets, Ansley Park is one of Atlanta’s most desirable neighborhoods. But in one gleaming mansion, in a teenager’s lavish bedroom, a girl has been savagely murdered. And in the hallway, her horrified mother stands amid shattered glass, having killed her daughter’s attacker with her bare hands.
Detective Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is here only to do a political favor; the murder site belongs to the Atlanta police. But Trent soon sees something that the cops are missing, something in the trail of blood, in a matrix of forensic evidence, and in the eyes of the shell-shocked mother. Within minutes, Trent is taking over the case — and adding another one to it. He is sure that another teenage girl is missing, and that a killer is on the loose.
Armed with only fleeting clues, teamed with a female cop who has her own personal reasons for hating him, Trent has enemies all around him — and a gnawing feeling that this case, which started in the best of homes, is cutting quick and deep through the ruins of perfect lives broken wide-open: where human demons emerge with a vengeance.
Will Trent, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), was first introduced in Triptych, and I immediately fell in love with him so I was pleased when he turned out to be the main character in a new series. Although Will is excellent at his job, he has barriers to overcome in the shape of his tortured childhood and his dyslexia which he battles to keep a secret. Will, abandoned as a baby, was subjected to horrific abuse by a series of foster parents which has left him scarred both emotionally and physically. The visible scars have made Will feel very self-conscious about his body which he keeps covered in layers of clothing and the psychological effects have left him with shockingly low self-esteem.
Despite these setbacks, or maybe because of them, Will has grown into a quirky character who most people underestimate at first sight, particularly when it comes to his job with the GBI. Relying on a series of techniques to overcome his dyslexia, Will has excellent observational skills which means he is very good at interpreting crime scenes and responding to victims despite his social inadequacies. Will’s vulnerabilities make him remarkably likeable but his strengths are carefully balanced with his weaknesses so we see a good investigator as well as a good man.
Besides Will, we are introduced to his ruthless boss, Amanda Wagner, who takes no prisoners with her often caustic tongue. While Amanda is initially hard to like as she seems to enjoy making fun of Will, particularly about his dyslexia, it soon becomes apparent Amanda looks out for Will in her own special way. However, Amanda isn’t above hanging Will out to dry to deflect attention away from herself and at the start of the novel we learn Will has just completed an investigation into corruption within the Atlanta PD. The investigation resulted in a number of cops being prosecuted and left the others viewing Will as the enemy. One of the casualties was Evelyn Mitchell, one of Amanda’s closest friends and mother of Detective Faith Mitchell, who was forced to take early retirement and, of course, Amanda then realises Faith would make an excellent partner for Will.
Although Faith is angry at Will for his part in ending her mother’s career, she is able to put aside her grievance for the sake of their work and she grudgingly admits Will is good at his job. Having gotten pregnant with her son at the age of fourteen, Faith is no stranger to being ostracised herself and she is smart enough to realise working with Will is the boost her career needs. However, the more time Faith spends with Will, the harder it is for Will to keep his secrets and as Faith begins to solve the puzzle that is Will Trent her protective instincts come to the fore which is exactly what Amanda Wagner had in mind.
The only thorn in Will’s side is the destructive presence of Angie Polaski, also previously introduced in Triptych, who is no longer a police officer and is now engaged to Will. Will and Angie have known each other since childhood, however the relationship is more toxic than nurturing since Angie knows all of Will’s secrets and is manipulative. Will is so emotionally dependent on Angie, he finds it hard to break away from her even though Faith and Amanda aren’t shy about voicing their disapproval of the woman.
While Fractured lays the groundwork for the series, there is also a case to solve and this is one of Slaughter’s most brutal. Abigail Campano returns home to find her teenaged daughter beaten to death and the perpetrator standing over her with a bloody knife in his hand. Fearing for her life and anguished over the brutality done to her daughter, Abigail manages to overcome the perpetrator and kills him with his own knife. However, Will pieces the crime together and comes to the horrifying conclusion the young man Abigail killed was not the perpetrator but another victim. Things become increasingly more complicated when Abigail’s husband realises the dead girl is not his daughter but her friend Kayla Alexander.
With precious hours having being wasted, the Atlanta PD are vilified by the media for having made so many mistakes, however Will and Faith are more concerned with finding the missing Emma Campano before her wealthy grandfather makes things even more difficult by offering a reward for her return. As the case continues, the tension increases when Will realises he has a connection to Emma’s father and the man has no confidence in Will’s abilities. As Will’s sense of inadequacy grows, he realises to his dismay that his dyslexia may be contributing to the list of official mistakes and Will isn’t sure whether he can trust Faith or not.
As things start to point towards Emma being dead, Will refuses to accept it and suddenly gets the breakthrough he needs in the most unexpected of ways. I love how Karin Slaughter exploits Will’s reading problem and then uses the very technology he has become so reliant on as a method of resolution which effectively flips Will’s weakness into a positive.
Having just finished re-reading the Grant County series, I have to confess that I now feel the Will Trent series is so much better as the characters are more interesting and they have better chemistry. One of the biggest flaws for me with the Grant County series was the attention given to Lena Adams and the fact her troubles were allowed to overshadow everything else, and while it looks like Angie Polaski has been created in the same mould, she isn’t allowed to become the main focus.
By moving the action to Atlanta, one of the most dangerous cities in America, Karin Slaughter has given herself a much wider playing field and it only proves she was correct in ending the Grant County series.