Introduction by Charles Den Tex:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to introduce to you tonight’s leading lady. She has taken this country, and a few others, by storm. She is a woman who makes writing look natural and who makes success look easy.
People like that, I tell you …
Ladies and gentlemen, Karin Slaughter is here to present Faithless, the fifth novel in her successful series situated in Grant County, Georgia. About Sara Linton, about her ex-husband and renewed lover Jeffrey Tolliver and about his detective Lena. About Sara’s father and mother, her aunt Bella, her sister Tess and all the other people that live in Grant County. We, the readers, feel we know them.
There is a reason for that. It is because Karin Slaughter writes real people. She writes the real lives of people, of families, of relationships, with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. In her books people say things I could say myself, if I ever found myself in such situations. Which luckily I don’t.
But she does it so well. She takes her time to introduce us to the people of Grant County. In her new book, Faithless, she takes thirty pages to tell us of Jeffrey and Lena’s first visit to the family of a murdered girl. Thirty pages! And you read through them like it was not even half as long.
She introduces a large weirdo cult religious family of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and all manner of cousins, painting a picture of a large but lone group of people, all tied together in a complex power structure. A power game. And at the same time she introduces a host of suspects.
She combines down home every day life, you know, worries about relationships, about groceries, about mother and daughter competition – she combines that with gruesome, sometimes mind boggling violence. She brings together the warmth of the home and the cold chill of hatred. She mixes recognizable details in relationships with the unknown details of human savagery.
Listen, she goes from this:
Sara Linton stood at the front door of her parents house holding so many plastic grocery bags in her hands that she couldn’t feel her fingers. Using her elbow, she tried to open the door but ended up smacking her shoulder into the glass pane. She edged back and pressed her foot against the handle, but the door still would not budge. Finally, she gave up and knocked with her forehead.
Now that is just lots of homey detail, making it clear from the very start that life, even simple life, sometimes gets a little complicated. We are all familiar with situations like that. Too much to do, on your own and no help from the inert world. There is no reason why that door shouldn’t co-operate, it just doesn’t. From being a perfectly useful object it has become an obstacle. Of course later we find out that her father locked, but still ?
And I’ll tell you why.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that we don’t know from Sara Linton. We walk into a bookstore and pick up Faithless, and it is the first time we have ever heard of Karin Slaughter. Okay? Let’s pretend.
In no more than five lines we know that this Sara Linton, whoever she is, is going to have a hard time. For whatever reason, things are not going to go her way. And before we are ten lines into the book, we want to read on to find out what is with this woman.
That is classic suspense writing.
No two ways about it.
And she does it in the details. From that neat little description of personal confrontation with the limits of what one can achieve, she takes us to this, listen:
“The gun glanced of her cheek, hitting the collarbone, slipping in Paul’s hand. A single bullet fired straight up into Terri’s face. The woman staggered, somehow keeping herself upright as she held onto Paul and her boy. There was gaping hole in her jaw, fragmented bone hanging down. Blood poured out of the open wound, splattering onto the tiled floor.”
They say the devil is in the detail, and Karin Slaughter gives the expression an entirely new and very literal meaning, because she has an eye for detail and she packs it full of devil. The fragmented bone hanging down, that is by no means the end of it. There is nothing homey about this part of the story. There is nothing there for us to recognize. But, because she has drawn us in, step by step, into this world that could just as well have been our own, the violence feels very real.
And why does she do it?
Well, she once said this: ‘What is the point of literary fiction if you’re not telling a story. If you are not asking a question at the beginning that is answered by the end, then what purpose are you serving? Crime fiction is asking and attempting to answer a lot of the difficult questions in society at the moment. Violence is such a part of our culture, and people want to know why.’
She seems to imply that writers have an obligation to serve a purpose. That may be pushing it a little. I mean, even writers are only human.
Nevertheless, the point is valid. Not just where does all this violence come from, but how do people deal with it?
Well, the simple answer is – it takes time. Lots of it. That is what the author impresses on her readers time and again. Wounds do not heal overnight. The scars are there and the pain stays inside. Sometimes her characters don’t get over it. Not in a thousand pages. They fight it, they suffer it, they push it away, they try to ignore it, but in the end they carry it with them through their lives.
That is very different from the standard thriller approach. Which still seems to be:
you whack a couple of people,
maybe you get hit yourself a couple of times, but hey, that’s all part of the job,
and you don’t complain about it.
Next day you may show a scratch or two, but by the end of the chapter all physical evidence is gone. Everyone is as good as new.
How many of you remember Roman Polansky’s CHINATOWN?
In that movie Jack Nicholson stars as Jake Gittes, a private investigator who stumbles upon some kind of murder scheme involving the control over the water in a particular area.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter.
That is not what the film is remembered for. It is remembered for the fact that Nicholson, its star, acts a large part of the movie with a huge band aid stuck across his nose, because early on a bad guy shoved a switchblade up there and cut him. And miraculously the resulting wound did NOT disappear. He carried his wound and his scar till the end.
Now at that time, I think 1974, that was a novelty. Really, people talked about it. And that was just the physical part of it, because nobody would accept Jack Nicholson having any kind of emotional or psychological trauma from a knife wound. Not then and not now.
That is fake, and we all know it. But we accept it, because it is part of the formula. We are used to it. Until now, because Karin Slaughter turns the formula inside out.
Sure enough her characters are tough, no need to worry there. That part of the formula is still intact. Lena is sometimes so tough she makes Sam Spade look like a sissy. And between them, Jeffrey and Lena have perfected the good-cop-bad-cop routine. Nobody gets past them.
So that’s not it.
The difference is that nobody walks away, whistling, into the sunset. That is over.
Lena’s toughness is born of her desire to survive, not out of an impersonal drive to judge others and put them in their place.
And Sara’s independence is also personal. It is not just a cliché for the lone investigator – she doesn’t even want to be alone – but her independence is a value she defends even in her relationship.
That is what we feel. Not the fantasy of the genre, but the reality of the people involved.
We believe them to be real.
Just as real as she is – the creator of Sara Linton, the present Queen of Suspense, ladies and gentlemen, the self employed supreme ruler of Grant County: Karin Slaughter.