Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Broken" by Karin Slaughter

The body of college student Allison Spooner is discovered in the lake, but despite the presence of what looks like a suicide note, the death is quickly determined as murder, thanks to a stab wound in her neck. It doesn't take long for them to arrest Tommy Braham, an intellectually disabled young man with a crush on the victim. But the arrest goes bad and one of the detectives is badly injured.

Sara Linton is back in town for Thanksgiving, and receives a phone call saying that Tommy is desperate to see her. When she arrives at the prison, he is dead, having written the words "Not Me" in his own blood. Knowing that Lena Adams is one of the detectives on the case and that she has a tendency to screw up everything she touches (plus she blames her for the death of her police chief husband), Sara calls the Georgia Bureau Of Investigation, hoping they might uncover Lena's incompetence and end her career for good. Will Trent, whom Sara worked with in "Genesis", is sent over. He quickly ascertains that Lena and Interim Police Chief Frank Wallace are indeed hiding something. Uncovering a motive for murder, however, proves much more difficult.

It's been a long time since I've read a zippy, twisty crime thriller and unfortunately, "Broken" hasn't broken the drought. This one is excruciatingly slow-paced. We discover in the prologue that Allison is killed at the lake. The detectives take until PAGE 200 to confirm it. If the author had removed the prologue, this revelation might have evoked perhaps an "ok, that's interesting" response, rather than my muttering of "it's about goddamn time". Alas, things don't particularly speed up from there, so I doubt it would have made much difference. This is one of those books where the solution to the crime is rather simple and unexciting, and barely justifies the long wait it takes to get there. Is it wrong to expect just a little excitement and suspense while reading a supposed crime thriller? Everybody is just going through the motions - collecting evidence, speculating about motive or in Sara's case, moping about her dead husband. I'm sure it's all very accurate, but it's also absolutely, stultifyingly DULL. There's no story here! Just 300-odd pages of rambling before the arbitrary identity of the killer is revealed and everything gets neatly wrapped up.

On top of this, Slaughter continues to fall into the same trap that permeated the other novels. She apparently killed off Jeffrey Tolliver to shake the series out of its equilibrium and approaching staleness. Now, instead of Sara spending each book with a different reason to be angry at her husband, she now spends each book moping about his death and their supposedly perfect, wonderful relationship (even though each previous book has clearly discredited this - they were always arguing!). She was a real weak link in "Genesis", and even though she doesn't actually appear much here, all of her scenes typically involve her crying about Jeffrey. As for me, I'm glad Jeffrey's dead. He was annoying. Will Trent is a much more interesting character. The hints at romance between him and Sara also ring false - I mean, how are we supposed to buy this plot direction when Sara is still barely coping with Jeffrey's death nearly four years later and at one point says: "Jeffrey has ruined other men for me"? I suspect that, despite suggestions at the book's conclusion that she's ready to move on, Sara will be spending the next book in much the same frame of mind, not moving the series anywhere.

Anything good to say? Well, Will Trent is probably the most likeable character Slaughter has created. He's complex, the world has dealt him some tough blows, but he's not a pain in the ass. Lena Adams is also not nearly as annoying as she usually is. Even to the point where it sometimes doesn't even feel like we're dealing with the same character from previous books. I never thought I'd see the day in this series where Lena was more tolerable than Sara.

But just because you like a couple of characters is not nearly reason enough to slog through this murky, near plot-less bore. There is zero suspense, a feeble mystery with precious few suspects, meaning barely a plot twist in sight. If you like lots and lots and lots AND LOTS of technical detail and little else, this might satisfy you. I normally look forward to each new Slaughter release, but this is easily one of her worst.

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