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Friday, August 5, 2016

'The Kept Woman' Will Trent #8 by Karin Slaughter

From the BLURB:

A body is discovered in an empty Atlanta warehouse. It's the body of an ex-cop, and from the moment Special Agent Will Trent walks in he knows this could be the most devastating case of his career. Bloody footprints leading away from the scene reveal that another victim - a woman - has left the scene and vanished into thin air. And, worst of all, the warehouse belongs to the city's biggest, most politically-connected, most high-profile athlete - a local hero protected by the world's most expensive lawyers. A local hero Will has spent the last six months investigating on a brutal rape charge.

But for Will - and also for Dr Sara Linton, the GBI's newest medical examiner - the case is about to get even worse. Because an unexpected discovery at the scene reveals a personal link to Will's troubled past. The consequences will wreak havoc on his life and the lives of those he loves, those he works with, and those he pursues.

But Sara's scene-of-the-crime diagnosis is that they only have a few hours to find the missing woman before she bleeds out . . .

‘The Kept Woman’ is the eighth book in Karin Slaughter’s addictive crime series, about Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) officer, ‘Will Trent’.

This book follows on from the seventh, ‘Unseen’ in which Will and his girlfriend Sara Linton went through the fallout of a tough investigation, only to come out stronger and more committed in their relationship. Sara is the doctor/medical examiner from Slaughter’s original ‘Grant County’ series, and she’s the widow of that series’ protagonist, Jeffrey Tolliver. But Sara’s past and grief over Jeffrey has really been the smallest hurdle in her and Will’s new relationship – namely because Will is actually married, to his long-time friend and psychological torturer, Angie Polaski.

Will and Angie met as children in the crooked foster-care system; they suffered through extraordinary abuse at the hands of various foster parents and fellow children. Will and Angie both went on to become cops – Angie a bad cop, and Will as in all things, one of the good guys. Angie has been Will’s longest and steadfast friend, but she’s also his torturer – she knows all his weak spots, and she exploits them for her own gains in their twisted relationship. And Angie’s been working overtime lately, since Will and Sara started dating some eighteen months ago …

But when this book kicks off, it’s at a murder scene with at least two missing bodies – one of which has all signs pointing to Angie Polaski – thus forcing Will to confront the very idea he’s been secretly harbouring for most of his life; that his wife might really be dead, and out of his life for good.

Ok. So. I love Karin Slaughter and my love is well-documented. The last ‘Will Trent’ book we got was in 2013, so I have been ridiculously excited for ‘The Kept Woman’ – especially after Slaughter revealed early on that this book would feature the mysterious and merciless, Angie. And while I was reading I really was like a pig in muck; enjoying every second of this world and Slaughter’s writing that I’d been sorely missing for three years. But, but, but … when I got to the end, I really did have a moment of reflection on how this book impacts the characters overall going forward – and I came to the realisation that it really doesn’t. ‘The Kept Woman’ doesn’t change much of anything for the characters – and there was more emotional upheaval at the end of ‘Unseen’. That means ‘The Kept Woman’ has the tinge of a “filler-book” for me; with a lot of bells and whistles happening in the plot to make us feel like we’re moving toward some horrible, inevitable tilting, but by the end not a lot changes. Everything pretty much stays the same for the players in this game.

On the one hand – maybe maintaining a status-quo might be okay for the eighth book in a series (especially when we don’t know exactly how many books Slaughter has planned in this series? We may be only at the mid-way point?!) Sara Linton migrating from ‘Grant County’ to ‘Will Trent’ was a big shake-up of its own early on, and then her falling for Will was a huge development for both characters. But I do get worried when Slaughter keeps her characters (and readers) in a semi-decent stagnant space by the end of a book. We all know what happened in ‘Beyond Reach’ once Jeffrey and Sara reached that point, right?

So – yes – on the one hand ‘The Kept Woman’ let me down a little bit, because nothing really changes. Even some pretty big revelations that come to the surface won’t actually impact characters too much going forward … And it’s always a little sucky to get to the end of a 548-page book and think “Huh, we’re exactly where we started.”

But what I did admire in this book was Slaughter examining rape and sexual assault cases through the lens of media and stardom. There’s a case that Will has been working in this book, about an NBA star who is accused of violently raping and beating a drugged woman – Will was the lead investigator, taking the case through to trial … where he discovered his client’s background trashed the jury’s perception of her, witnesses were paid off or intimidated, and the whole thing fell apart. And all because the accused rapist – Marcus Rippy – is a multi-million dollar cash-cow for his sports agency.

Rippy’s case allows Slaughter to make some uncomfortable truths and shine a harsh light on how such cases play out in the glare of media spotlight and the ruthless court of public appeal. And what’s even more unsettling is how much the Rippy rape case mirrors real examples – like Kobe Bryant’s 2003 rape case, that established a new and nasty legacy for women trying to report against powerful and moneyed men. Even see what’s been happening to Amber Heard after she reported Johnny Depp for domestic violence abuse – a single photo appears of her smiling (HOW DARE SHE?!) and suddenly people think it’s an open and shut case of a gold-digger versus a rich megastar. Slaughter really goes to town on these notions, and it’s both nauseating and eye-opening;

Will didn’t respond, because there was nothing else to say. 
Faith gripped the steering wheel. ‘I have rape cases. You don’t throw a murder case to a jury and they ask, “Well, was the guy really murdered or is he lying because he wants the attention? And what was he doing in that part of town? And why was he drinking? And what about all those murderers he dated before?”’ 
‘She wasn’t sympathetic.’ Will hated that this even mattered. ‘Her family’s a mess. Single mom with a drug habit. No idea who the dad is. She had some drug issues in high school, a history of self-cutting. She was coming off academic probation at her college. She dated around, spent a lot of time on Tinder and OkCupid, like everybody her age. Rippy’s people found out she had an abortion a few years ago. She basically wrote their trial strategy for them.’

One more reason why ‘The Kept Woman’ didn’t sit overly well with me was that Sara Linton didn’t read … like herself in this book? She’s very much in a back-seat role, which I didn’t appreciate – but also her reactions felt, off? I know lots of people read ‘Grant County’ and now ‘Will Trent’ and thoroughly dislike Sara Linton. I’ve read it said that she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. I never felt that way – but in this book I did find her getting on my nerves, especially when Will’s life is being thrown off-kilter and he’s experiencing intense grief and Sara pretty much just wants him to get over it because Angie was a terrible human-being and he has her now. Yeah, there was just something tonally off about Sara and her reactions in this book? Also that she was relegated to the periphery.

I love Karin Slaughter, and while reading ‘The Kept Woman’ I did enjoy the ride. But upon reflection this books feels … stagnate. In a series where there’s been so many twists, turns and shake-ups, you really notice when one book makes a big show-and-dance about not actually advancing the story and players. It just sucks that I’ll probably be waiting another three years for the next instalment, and living in hope that these characters I’ve grown to love start marching forward with a bit more determination.


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