Review: Skin Privilege by Karin Slaughter

Title: Skin Privilege (6th in the Grant County series) (Beyond Reach in the US)

Author: Karin Slaughter

Publisher: Arrow Books [2007]

ISBN: 978-0-09-948184-3

No. of Pages: 547

Sara Linton is a paediatrician and medical examiner in small town Georgia. The book opens with her being submitted to a deposition in a malpractice case which, while offering a valid insight into what’s wrong with health care in many countries these days, has nothing much to do with anything else. I suppose the fact that the entire town turns on her even though no case has been proven does provide a motivation for her to accompany her husband Jeffrey, the Sheriff of the same small town, out of town. When Jeffrey learns that his detective, Lena Adams, has been arrested in a different small town after she was discovered catatonic at the site of an explosion he and Sara set off to find out what happened. Lena escapes custody, the bodies start to pile up and everyone chases their tails for a while.

I’ve read the previous five books in this series and while they’re not my favourites of the genre I’ve always thought they were perfectly servicable, if a little incredible. I can’t say the same for Skin Privilege.  Firstly it’s long. Unnecessarily so. This tiny extract might give you an idea why I think that

Jeffrey didn’t want to tie up his cell phone so he picked up the receiver by the couch and used his calling card to check their messages at home. No one had called, so he hung up and dialed the station. He entered the code and accessed his work voice mail.

Most of the book is as yawn-inducing as this passage. It is so full of such irrelevant details and so devoid of actual plot advancement that it reminded me of one of my favourite Monty Python sketches which tells the tale of an insurance salesman to whom nothing happens (if you go to the link do yourself a favour and listen to the 2 minute sketch). This slowness is combined with an utterly annoying structure, the book switches point of view and moves back and forwards in time in a way that completely fails to build up any tension, and by the time Slaughter starts the actual story (somewhere around page 430) I was past caring. The shock ending that had fans talking lost a lot of its impact for me because I was just so thrilled to be finished.

Then there’s the credibility factor. Between them Sara and Lena have been raped by a stranger, lost a sister to a serial killer, nearly lost a different sister to a different killer, been beaten and raped by a white supremacist boyfriend and had an abortion. And all of that took place before this book starts. So I found it impossible to believe the things that happened to either of these women in this book. Slaughter’s depiction of a small town turning on a much loved children’s doctor didn’t ring true at all, and nor did the string of events that happened around Lena. The secrets she discovered about her own family history were simply preposterous given the “everyone knows everyone’s business” picture of small town life Slaughter had gone to great lengths to depict. The rampant corruption at the heart of the story was equally improbable (I had the same reaction to it as I always do to those September 11 conspiracy theories). At some point very early on the “it’s gone too far” switch in my brain was flicked and I spent the rest of the book snickering as the trauma count piled up around each woman.

All of this was wrapped up in a layer of misery that made finishing this book feel like a punishment rather than the diversion it ought to have been. I can’t imagine too many true fans of the series were enamoured of the book and if you haven’t read any of the Grant County series I wouldn’t recommend you start here.

My rating 1/5.

Other stuff

Reviewed at Material Witness

Slaughter’s next book, titled Undone in the US and Genesis for the rest of us, is due out in July 2009. It’s apparently set three years later than this book and looks to join the Grant County series with Slaughter’s Will Trent series. I’ve yet to decide if I’ll give it a go after the disappointment of this one although the first Will Trent book was one of my favourite reads of last year (narrowly missing out on a place in my top ten).

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11 Responses to Review: Skin Privilege by Karin Slaughter

  1. Kerrie says:

    Oh dear, you didn’t like this did you? As you say, she lost a lot of fans with the shock ending too – many who could not believe what she had done!


  2. Dorte H says:

    I can see I have been more lucky than you today. If I had a rating system, I would give my book TWO stars of five.

    I just felt I should review it because it is Danish and the writer is quite popular so somehow it seems to me that my Danish readers deserve to know what I think about her books and why.


  3. Barbara says:

    She lost me with her first book. The murderer was obvious, the relationships were operatic, and the violence against women was both improbable and salacious. People whose opinions I respect have explained why I have this wrong and the treatment of sexual violence was sensitive and brave, but it physiologically implausible and was far too much of a porn flick storyline to me, that women who are raped secretly enjoy it and then must deal with that conflict between their desire and experiencing powerlessness. It actually made me quite angry, as you can probably tell. I rarely remember books this clearly! How sad that I don’t remember the ones I love nearly as well.


  4. Dorte H says:

    … that women who are raped secretly enjoy it and then must deal with that conflict between their desire and experiencing powerlessness …

    Of course that makes you angry! That theory must be invented by stupid men or women who have never been violated in any way.


  5. Maxine says:

    I have enjoyed previous books in this series but totally agree with your perceptive review of this one, Bernadette! It was this crazy mixture of boredom (tedium) over micro-details with the odd unbelievable dramatic set-piece thrown in – a mess, frankly. And the ending was not so much of a shock but a total clunk and “let’s think of an angle to reinvigorate a tired series”. I suspect she may be going rather James Pattersonish, having read her subsequent standalone (which is better than this, but nevertheless bland). For a good example of Slaughter at her best, I recommend the standalone Triptych. Read only that, and you can probably miss out on the rest!


  6. Barbara says:

    Dorte, to be fair, many female readers of her first book did not think that’s what was going on in that particular scene and have taken me to task for reading it that way, so there is probably more than one way to interpret what was going on.

    There is a lot of wallowing in misery in these character’s lives, though. And that town must have the highest murder rate in the country, which is saying something in the US.


  7. bernadetteinoz says:

    I don’t remember the first book nearly that well Barbara, perhaps because I didn’t read it in order. But I do agree that she has a very odd and unrealistic way of portraying women who experience violence. In this book Lena still seems to be infatuated by the white supremacist who abused her even though she put him in jail in a previous book.

    And I totally agree with you about the ending Maxine, it was the ultimate in lazy writing for me. I had forgotten that there was a shock ending (the book’s been out for two years so the discussion has long since died down) but when it happened I laughed. I’m fairly sure that wasn’t supposed to be my reaction.

    Dorte sorry you had a bad book as well – hopefully we’ll both find something better this week.


  8. LauraR says:

    This author lost me with “Skin Privilege”, my first and only attempt at reading her books. I felt that the relentless violence and abuse (including child abuse) was thoroughly unpleasant and becoming gratuitious.


  9. LauraR says:

    the sun has got the better of me – I meant to say “Kisscut” in my previous post.


  10. kathy durkin says:

    I read two of Slaughter’s books, then vowed never again. The violence against women was terrible and gratuitous–and unnecessary. It’s too bad; the characters are somewhat interesting. But I absolutely do NOT want to read about such terrible brutality against women, against anyone. However, when women are attacked, often sexual violence and assault are combined.
    To imply that women who are sexually assaulted somehow enjoy it is maddening.
    That angers me, too.
    I can’t read any more of her books.


  11. I should have given up on her long before I did so Kathy, but I used to read her when my reading horizons were much smaller – i.e. I only read what was available down here in my starved little corner of the world – before I discovered book blogs and book depository and my entire reading world changed


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