6 November 2009

Review: TRIPTYCH, Karen Slaughter

This is a book review that was originally published elsewhere.
Publisher: Random House Australia, August 2006

Georgia is a Southern American state that author Karin Slaughter knows well. She grew up there. TRIPTYCH is a stand-alone thriller set in Atlanta, Georgia but for me the setting didn't seem particularly important: anywhere that has slum housing, seedy low life, and prostitutes would do. It is the meaning of the title TRIPTYCH that holds this book together and I am not sure whether I am right about its final meaning.

A triptych is a work of art (usually a panel painting) divided into three sections, or three carved panels hinged together. The central panel is the most important one, flanked on either side by two lesser but related paintings that fold over it. The whole is intended to be greater than the sum of the parts.

In TRIPTYCH we have a novel in three parts, a trio of investigators, and a moment in time seen from three points of view.

February 2006, Atlanta Georgia: Michael Ormewood is a police detective in charge of a murder investigation where the victim is found in a stairwell in a pool of her own blood - with her tongue missing. A number of similar cases have occurred in Atlanta in the last eight months. Special Agent Will Trent has recently been transferred to Georgia's the Criminal Apprehension Team. He and Ormewood have to work together and hate each other at first sight. Angie Polaski of the Vice Squad is the link between the two. She has a long history with Trent and a more recent liaison with Ormewood.

TRIPTYCH opens with a newspaper report from 1985. Fifteen year old Mary Alice Finney has been found murdered. Her body has been significantly mutilated. Within the first fifty pages we learn that a fellow student has been arrested for Mary Alice's murder. Twenty one years on, in 2006, the convicted murderer has now been released. Are the events of 1985 and 2006 linked? While Michael Ormewood seems to think they may be, Will Trent and Angie Polaski have their doubts.

The structure of this novel is both fascinating and challenging. Like so many recent novels, this story slips easily from one time frame to another. There are plenty of clues about which time zone we are in - specially formatted pages, dates - but occasionally the reader is left to judge from the characters and events.

TRIPTYCH is Karin Slaughter's first stand-alone novel. Her previous publications have all been part of the "Grant" series published 2001-2005, which features Dr. Sara Linton, pediatrician and coroner, Jeffrey Tolliver, her wayward ex-husband and chief of police, and Lena Adams, female detective. The series has been immensely popular and has made Slaughter well-known in a relatively short time. Slaughter's fans however will not be disappointed in TRIPTYCH. Although I felt I knew the answer to the central mystery of the novel, who really killed Mary Alice Finney?, for almost half the novel, the need to know the final outcome kept me reading.

My rating: 4.6

Karin Slaughter's website. Read an excerpt from Triptych

Sep 2006 review originally published on Murder and Mayhem

Mini-reviews of other Karin Slaughter books:

A COLD FAINT FEAR (2003), my rating 4.6
Sara Linton, medical examiner in the small town of Heartsdale, Georgia, is called out to an apparent suicide on the local college campus. The mutilated body provides little in the way of clues - and the college authorities are eager to avoid a scandal - but for Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, things don't add up. Two more suspicious suicides follow, and a young woman is brutally attacked. For Sara, the violence strikes far too close to home. And as Jeffrey pursues the sadistic killer, he discovers that ex-police detective Lena Adams, now a security guard on campus, may be in possession of crucial information. But, bruised and angered by her expulsion from the force, Lena seems to be barely capable of protecting herself, let alone saving the next victim.

SKIN PRIVILEGE (2007), my rating 4.7
When Detective Lena Adams is arrested in her home town in Georgia, her boss, police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver, goes to help her and takes his wife medical examiner Sara Linton with him. Sara has problems of her own: she is being sued for medical misdiagnosis after the death of a young patient. His parents, overwhelmed by debt, are looking for someone to pay. Jeffrey and Sara have recently been accepted into an adoption programme.
Lena, who always seems to be in trouble, has been discovered by the local police sitting on the ground on the perimeter of a high school sports field, with her foot on a fuel can. On the fifty yard touch line is a burning Cadillac and investigators can see a body, beyond saving, charring on the back seat. When Lena won’t answer questions or indeed speak at all, she is taken to the hospital, and at the same time charged with obstructing the law. Soon after Jeffrey and Sara arrive, Lena absconds, setting off a chain of events that places them all in great danger.


Bernadette in Australia said...

I liked this one too Kerrie, especially Will Trent. I was not thrilled to learn that the book is not a standalone after all - apparently she's combined the two series together in her latest book but as I've officially given up on her I guess I'll go on pretending that this was a good standalone novel :)

Philip said...

I thought very highly of this one, Kerrie -- indeed, perhaps .2 higher than you did yourself. I've not been at all happy to read of significant changes in Slaughter's work since. It was a review of Genesis by 'mazingly marvellous Maxine that warned me off -- a voice good enough for me, but there were in fact not a few others making up a goodly chorus. Shame. KS is very funny -- the afterword/acknowledgements to Beyond Reach had me laughing aloud -- and she'd have done better to play up humour than extreme violence if she wanted to take a turn. But I very much recommend Triptych.

Maxine said...

Thanks for the extremely flattering remark, Philip (blush!!) - undeserved in the company of you, Kerrie and Bernadette I am sure!

I dropped in to say that I think this is her best novel - it is certainly the one I enjoyed the most, particularly the first parts.

I think, Bernadette, that it may have been written in the first place as a standalone? Not sure, but one thing is for sure that the follow-ups have been nothing like as good, in my opinion (as Philip writes). I would not go out of my way to read more by her now- unless a review/proof falls into my lap as it were.

Kerrie - reading your review now reminds me of Jo Nesbo's Nemesis, which of course I hadn't read when I read Triptych (as it wasn't then published in English). Nemesis is also about a triptych. I wonder if you've read it? If not, and you plan to read/review it, it will be interesting to see how you think Nesbo handles that theme v a v Slaughter. (Nesbo's is actually about a work of art, at least.)

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Thanks for this review. Like Philip, I'd been warned away from Slaughter, and so hadn't put her work on my TBR list. It seems from your review and everyone's comments, though, that I should give this one a try.

Philip said...

Margot, I should say this one -- Triptych -- and the earlier ones up to and including Fractured of 2008. It is thereafter that things reportedly go awry, a huge disappointment to me, I must say, for I had Slaughter on my 'A' List. Triptych I think her masterpiece to date, but I wouldn't hesitate to read the earlier ones. Best read in order, in my view.

Louise said...

I've read all of Sluaghter's books, except Fractured, which I have waiting. I know that Fractured comes between Triptych and what the one called Genesis in the Eurozone (that is the one where she combines Grant County and Will Trent-series).

I have to say, that I also liked Triptych a lot, and I also found her last 2-3 Grant County books very, very good. But the first batch...well, I found some of the main characters so annoying that I often wondered why I kept on reading the series. Specially Lena was a character I wanted to murder in every brutally described way in the first 4-5 books! But also Sara and Jeffrey had so many flaws that I didn't even think it made them human at all. Anyway, conclusively I do like KS and look forward to read fractured, although I've heard that it is not that good.

Kerrie said...

Maxine - I didn't pick up the triptych aspect of NEMESIS. I've read your reviwe but don't see a reference there. Can you explain further?

Kerrie said...

SKIN PRIVILEGE was the one that upset her fans wasn't it? I have draft copy of a review of that to publish sometime.

Philip said...

Yes, that was Skin Privilege, Kerrie. Best to say nothing as to the reason, else we should need a major spoiler alert.


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