Book Review: The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter
By John ValeriJuly 31, 2020
Karin Slaughter is one of the most recognizable names in crime fiction. Her books have sold more than 35 million copies in 37 languages across the globe and are perennial New York Times bestsellers. In addition to her popular Grant County and Will Trent series, she has written standalones including the Edgar-nominated Cop Town, The Good Daughter, and Pieces of Her, all of which are in development for film and television. Slaughter’s newest, The Silent Wife, marks a milestone: her twentieth year in publishing and her twentieth book.
As the story opens, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Officer (GBI) Will Trent is dispatched to the state penitentiary to investigate the murder of an inmate. While questioning potential witnesses, a convicted pedophile claims to have critical information about another recent (unsolved) crime: the brutal rape of a young woman who was left for dead. It’s an MO Daryl Nesbitt has intimate familiarity with, given that he’s long been suspected of having committed a string of eerily similar attacks in Grant County. And, according to Nesbitt, it was a corrupt investigation led by (now deceased) Chief Jeffrey Tolliver that resulted in a miscarriage of justice—meaning there may still be a serial predator on the loose.
This is problematic for more reasons than the obvious. Trent’s lover and hopeful wife, medical examiner Dr. Sara Linton, is also Tolliver’s widow; the two are already at odds after a marriage proposal gone wrong, and Trent believes investigating her former husband’s possible misdeeds may be the thing that drives them apart for good. But there’s compelling evidence to indicate that Nesbitt may actually be innocent of the earlier rapes (which he was never charged with), meaning Trent, his partner, (the laugh-out-loud funny) Faith, and Sara have to entertain the possibility before their potential UNSUB realizes he’s no longer operating under the radar.
The crimes themselves are viscerally disturbing, and show an escalation from stalking to sexual assaults that eventually encompass mutilation, paralysis, and murder. Slaughter doesn’t shy away from the details; rather, she exposes the grim realities of such heinous acts, as well as the physical and emotional aftermath—both on the part of the victims (some of whom survived) and their loved ones. This overriding sense of realism has always set the author apart, and is no way diminished here. Linton—herself a survivor of a rape that left her unable to conceive—embodies the juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability that makes her a natural empath, and possesses a reverence for the dead (and those left for dead) that is reminiscent of Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta.
While the plot itself (and the requisite forensics) is wholly engaging, it’s the characters that provide the emotional underpinning. Peripheral figures are rendered multi-dimensional, but it’s the focal points, Trent and Linton, that most strongly resonate. Each is trying to overcome their earlier traumas to salvage a companionable future, but their individual triggers coupled with current circumstances (which include both parties reckoning with Tolliver’s ghost) only exacerbate the divide. This dynamic is enhanced by Slaughter’s use of dual timelines, which allows readers to revisit the past (including Tolliver through his initial investigation) to more clearly understand its impact on present day. Seldom are fictional beings so clearly, complexly defined and, consequently, the mysteries of the human heart prove as compelling as the ultimate question of whodunit (and its shattering answer).
The Silent Wife is another unequivocal triumph for Karin Slaughter. This entry further enmeshes her two series, offering the type of suspense story that is equal parts pulse-pounding and thought-provoking—but with moments of biting humor and underlying hope that ease the tension just enough to make it tolerable. Kudos to the author for continuing to evolve as a risk-taker whose creative vision only deepens with the passage of time. Here’s to the next twenty … years and books!