Karin Slaughter is a relatively new voice on the hard-boiled female detective scene dominated by Patricia Cornwall and Kathy Reichs. Sarah Linton is the medical examiner in Heartsdale, Georgia, and A Faint Cold Fear is the third book in the Grant County series.
Like most others of the genre this novel has a high body count and lots of blood, but it also has some delicate character sketches and complicated motivation. A Faint Cold Fear begins with the apparent suicide of a troubled student at the local university, and the university administrators are more interested in avoiding adverse publicity than in investigating the issue. Sarah and her ex-husband Jeffrey Tolliver, police chief, want to look into the circumstances surrounding the death, but they are hampered by not only the university officials but by conflicting authorities and jurisdictions.
The complexity grows when Sarah’s pregnant sister insists on coming along for the ride on an investigation trip, and is brutally beaten. The element of guilt makes the situation even more problematic for Sarah, who feels responsible for her sister’s situation. Other deaths follow, and the conflicts over who is in charge hamper the investigation.
The investigator is not the only one whose character is presented in depth—Lena Adams, a former cop from an earlier book, is a major figure in this novel, and her motivations are explored realistically as she too tries to discover truths despite the fact that she has lost her position as a police officer and is now trying to operate as a security guard. A rape victim, Lena has a personal stake in the exposure and punishment of violent crime.
This book offers a genuine surprise at the ending which does not violate the rules of the game and which does provide intellectual satisfaction. Readers of this genre will eagerly await the fourth Grant County murder mystery.