Crime Fiction Alphabet: K is for Kisscut

For this week’s contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme I’ll take a look at Karin Slaughter’s Kisscut which I rated a 4 out of 5 when I read it back in 2004. It is the second of Slaughter’s Grant County series and, like all the books, focuses on dark topics. As it opens a teenage girl is threatening to shoot an older boy in the car park of the Heartsdale skating rink. Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver, who is at the rink on a date with his ex-wife Sara (who is also the area’s Coroner), is forced to shoot the girl to save the boy. During the girl’s autopsy Sara discovers that the girl has been subjected to years of abuse. Eventually police uncover a ring of incest and pedophilia that is truly hideous.

Putting aside for a moment the issue of the graphic violence in this series Kisscut is a taut narrative full of engaging characters. The relationship between Sara and Jeffrey is nicely explored with the two being former husband and wife but still needing to work together and, tentatively, thinking about the idea of re-kindling their romantic relationship. One of Jeffrey’s officers, Lena Adams, is also an interesting character having survived her own kidnap and rape and struggling to deal with the death of her sister. Because I did find this book so riveting I was very disappointed that the series deteriorated to the point of dullness and silliness as I described earlier this year when I reviewed Skin Privilege (the sixth book in the series). Whereas in Kisscut I found the characters interesting by the time they’d each had a half-dozen increasingly absurd tragedies in their relatively young lives they were more like caricatures by the time it came to Skin Privilege and the plotting had become far less taught too.

When it comes to the graphic nature of the content I can’t say Slaughter changed much over time. All the books, including Kisscut (which has a truly awful set of villains) have been about dark issues and have incorporated violence and explicit depictions of most of the horrid things one human being can do to another. However when the story is good and the characters believable, as in Kisscut, I can stomach such content as it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It’s when there’s nothing but descriptions of horrible mutilations and general despair and misery that I find myself resenting the graphic nature of books like this.

By about book four in this series I think the quality starts to seriously suffer but I try not to let that cloud my judgement of the earlier books, like Kisscut, which were solid examples of their sub-genre.

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7 Responses to Crime Fiction Alphabet: K is for Kisscut

  1. Maxine says:

    I very much agree with you, Bernadette. I enjoyed Kisscut and the earlier Slaughters, although I think even then there were signs of tedium – long sections where not much happens and characters ruminate not very informatively about their feelings. This got worse in subsequent books so that by the time we reach Skin Privilege so much of the book goes on inside people’s heads it is silly. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but given the events that happened to Sara in the book before, would she really be spending a whole novel deciding whether or not to open a letter? (Did we even get to know what it said? I forget!)

    The book of Slaughter’s I enjoyed most was Triptych, a very good standalone thriller. She then picked up a couple of the characters from that and now has merged those with Sara’s story. Unfortunately at the time I think her gruesomely awful descriptions of torture and other violence suffered by victims is quite out of line with anything other than attempts to shock a jaded readership with some new atrocity. (I don’t recommend Fractured, as I wish I had not read some of it.)

    It is such a pity as the author is so talented and could still make some really good novels out of these characters and their situations, if only she’d get on with it, and drop the lingering descriptions of evil torture, and drop the endless self-absorption that does not futher the plot or our understanding of the characters concerned.

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  2. Bernadette – There’s always a real balance to strike when it comes to how much violence – how dark – a book or series discusses. I agree with you and Maxine – as long as the plot is strong and believable and the characters also strong, dark violence can work. When it’s gratuitous, lengthy, etc., it ruins a story – at least for me. Thanks for this review of a book that strikes that balance.

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  3. Kerrie says:

    Thanks for contributing this to the Crime Fiction Alphabet Bernadette. I’ve always wondered whether Slaughter is her “real” surname.

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  4. Seems like I ought to check it out!

    Here is my Crime Fiction Alphabet: K post!

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