The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter #BookReview

A mysterious kidnapping

On a hot summer night, a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control is grabbed by unknown assailants in a shopping center parking lot. Vanished into thin air, the authorities are desperate to save the doctor.

A devastating explosion

One month later, the serenity of a sunny Sunday afternoon is shattered by the boom of a ground-shaking blast—followed by another seconds later. One of Atlanta’s busiest and most important neighborhood’s has been bombed—the location of Emory University, two major hospitals, the FBI headquarters, and the CDC.

A diabolical enemy

Medical examiner Sara Linton and her partner Will Trent, an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, rush to the scene—and into the heart of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to destroy thousands of innocent lives. When the assailants abduct Sara, Will goes undercover to save her and prevent a massacre—putting his own life on the line for the woman and the country he loves.

Title: The Last Widow | Author: Karin Slaughter | Series: Will Trent #9 |Publisher: HarperCollins | Pages: 464 | ISBN: 9780008303389 | Publication date: 13th June 2019 | Source: NetGalley

I read Karin Slaughter’s first few novels years ago and enjoyed them, but then somehow fell out of the habit of reading her. I’m kind of regretting that lapse now, because her latest ‘The Last Widow’ is great. It’s a gripping, action-packed and emotionally charged thriller that mixes a solid plot¸ convincing characters and a breakneck pace. It reminded me a little of Lee Child, only with a greater focus on interpersonal relationships. It’s the ninth of Slaughter’s ‘Will Trent’ books, but can be read as a standalone. I went into it without having read any of the previous books and got on fine with it.

The plot is about a far-right terrorist group planning a domestic atrocity in Georgia (the US state, not the country). Georgia Bureau of Investigations officer Will Trent and his girlfriend, doctor Sara Linton, stumble into it right at the start, with Sara kidnapped by some of the terrorists and Will fighting to save her. That might sound like a hackneyed “boy saves girl” plot, but rest assured that Sara is every bit as much of an active player as Will.

The first third of the book night be the fastest paced, most gripping thing I’ve read in ages. It’s insanely tense and exciting. Unputdownable is a word that gets used to describe thrillers a lot, but it certainly applies here. It reads like an episode of TV show ‘24’, with a breakneck pace that is so unrelenting it’s exhausting to read. Slaughter uses long chapters, rather than the really short ones favoured by the likes of Dan Brown and James Patterson, meaning the reader gets no chance to come up for air. It works brilliantly, but boy is it gruelling to read, especially when you throw in Slaughter’s fondness for forensic detail.

It’s almost a relief when the pace slows down a bit for the middle third of the book, which focusses more on the investigation into the terrorists. Slaughter brings in a broader range of characters and the detail of how law enforcement works, inter agency rivalry and all, feels credible. The pace picks up again for the final act, which isn’t quite as tense as he first, but is still pretty blistering stuff.

Slaughter’s plotting and characters are spot on throughout. Will is appealingly fallible for a tough guy hero, and the villains are truly repellent. She works in topical detail on far right extremism in the US, which all adds to the effectiveness of the book.

What works less well is her decision to replay scenes from multiple viewpoints. At times this adds to the novel’s richness, but at others it borders on the tedious. Reading exactly the same conversation twice feels unnecessary and frustrating. When I say the same conversation, I mean word for word the same dialogue, it isn’t even paraphrased.  Elmore Leonard wrote that authors should leave out the parts that readers tend to skip. Slaughter and her editor should have paid attention to that rule.

Fortunately, that habit is only really present near the start of the book, and it’s my only problem with what is otherwise an excellent thriller. It’s hellishly exciting, politically astute and emotionally engaging. Needless to say the first thing I did after finishing it was buy the first Will Trent book.

4/5

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