Saturday night dates at the skating rink have been a tradition in the small southern town of Heartsdale for as long as anyone can remember, but when a teenage quarrel explodes into a deadly shoot-out, Sara Linton–the town’s pediatrician and medical examiner–finds herself entangled in a terrible tragedy.
What seemed at first to be a horrific but individual catastrophe proves to have wider implications. The autopsy reveals evidence of long-term abuse, of ritualistic self -mutilation, but when Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver start to investigate, they are frustrated at every turn.
Kisscut is the second volume in the Grant County series which follows the lives of medical examiner and paediatrician, Sara Linton, and her ex-husband, Jeffrey Tolliver, as they investigate some of Georgia’s most harrowing crimes.
While I had mixed views on the first novel of the series, Blindsighted, I had no such doubts with Kisscut because Slaughter takes her writing to a whole new level. With the character introductions out of the way and the scene already set, Slaughter takes us straight into the action as Sara once more discovers horrors in a local restroom.
In the four months after the events of the first novel, Sara and Jeffrey have begun dating again and while she is waiting for him at the local skating rink, Sara meets a lot of her paediatric patients and becomes concerned by the behaviour of thirteen-year-old Jenny Weaver when she brushes past Sara. Entering the bathroom, Sara finds the body of a baby which has obviously been born prematurely. Believing Jenny is the mother, she rushes outsides only to discover a stand off between the girl who is holding a teenage boy at gunpoint and Jeffrey who has his weapon trained on Jenny. As Jeffrey tries to talk the girl down, Jenny beseeches him to shoot her and he is left with little choice as she pulls the trigger.
When an emotional Sara performs an autopsy on Jenny, she is horrified when she discovers the girl has been subject to female genital mutilation and has never given birth. As Sara and Jeffrey try to get to the bottom of the case, they uncover a harrowing tale of child pornography and abuse which turns their world upside down. As you can imagine, the topic is extremely disturbing and Slaughter does not hold anything back so some readers will find this book more harrowing than others. Both Sara and Jeffrey are deeply affected by this case, and the scenes where Sara is taking care of the dead baby are particularly poignant as her attempts to maintain professional clash with her personal feelings, particularly as she mourns her inability to have children.
The characters continue to evolve nicely and while Sara and Jeffrey are still at odds with each other over certain matters, the nature of the case pushes them together and they begin to find more common ground. We learn more about Jeffrey’s background as he returns home to visit his ailing mother and it goes a long way into explaining some of his choices. These two are better together but they just need to learn to talk to each other properly instead of assuming so much about each other.
Detective Lena Adams is also allowed back on active duty after her rape ordeal on the condition she see a therapist, however Lena thinks she knows better than anyone else and decides to go it alone as usual. While Lena is preoccupied by work, she can forget what happened to her but as soon as she is off the clock, the demons come back to haunt her and she is practically suicidal. There are plenty of people who believe in her and want to help her but Lena continues to push people away and is downright nasty to some of them. Lena’s insistence she is okay leads to her making some poor decisions but once again those closest to her cover for her and she manages to get away with it. Once again, I found myself downright hating her character and will admit to having skipped more than one of her destructive paragraphs.
As the culprits are revealed, Slaughter manages to keep the shock factor going as she plays with our notions of who child abusers are and why they do these vile acts. Nothing is fully resolved by the conclusion with certain guilty parties escaping justice but that is the unfortunate reality of police work.