If novels were sold with parental advisories, Dr. Sara Linton’s second case (after Blindsighted, 2001) would be plastered with every warning notice they make. The opening sequence, in which Sara’s ex, Grant County police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, is forced to shoot Jenny Weaver, a troubled teenager who’s apparently just tried to flush a newborn baby down a skating-rink toilet when Jenny draws down on Mark Patterson and begs the chief to shoot first, would get an R for violence and adult themes. The autopsies on Jenny and the baby offer horrifying reasons why Sara can be sure Jenny wasn’t the mother and hadn’t been sexually active for months. The interviews with Jenny’s trash-talking classmates are starkly depressing. And the questions revolving around the ensuing investigation—who were the baby’s parents, and why was Jenny so determined either to kill Mark or die herself?—only broaden into still more monstrous revelations, beginning with a web of child abusers and getting ever darker until they overflow the whodunit’s traditional promise of closure. Readers prepared to take the plunge will be rewarded with the uncommon intensity Slaughter brings to everything from action to dialogue and her peculiarly literary sense of humor (in addition to characters named Eddie Linton and Hare Earnshaw, she dubs a pedophile Arthur Prynne).
It’s not easy to transcend a model like Patricia Cornwell, but Slaughter does so in a thriller whose breakneck plotting and not-for-the-squeamish forensics provide grim manifestations of a deeper evil her mystery trumpets without ever quite containing.