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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis



New York Times bestseller Karin Slaughter brings back her two most fascinating and complex characters–medical examiner Sara Linton and her ex-husband, police chief Jeffrey Tolliver–in a heart-pounding tale of faith, doubt, and murder…

The victim was buried alive in the Georgia woods–then killed in a horrifying fashion. When Sara Linton and Jeffrey Tolliver stumble upon the body, both become consumed with finding out who killed the pretty young woman. For them, a harrowing journey begins, one that will test their own turbulent relationship and draw dozens of life into the case.

For as Jeffrey and Sara move further down a trail of shocking surprises and hidden passions, neither is prepared for the most stunning discovery of all: the identity of a killer who is more evil and dangerous than anyone could have guessed.

Excerpt

Chapter One


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.

Through the wavy glass, she watched her father making his way down the hallway. He opened the door with an uncharacteristic scowl on his face.

"Why didn't you make two trips?" Eddie demanded, taking some of the bags from her.

"Why is the door locked?"

"Your car's less than fifteen feet away."

"Dad," Sara countered. "Why is the door locked?"

He was looking over her shoulder. "Your car is filthy." He put the bags down on the floor. "You think you can handle two trips to the kitchen with these?"

Sara opened her mouth to answer, but he was already walking down the front steps. She asked, "Where are you going?"

"To wash your car."

"It's fifty degrees out."

He turned and gave her a meaningful look. "Dirt sticks no matter the climate." He sounded like a Shakespearean actor instead of a plumber from rural Georgia.

By the time she had formed a response, he was already inside the garage.

Sara stood on the porch as her father came back out with the requisite supplies to wash her car. He hitched up his sweatpants as he knelt to fill the bucket with water. Sara recognized the pants from high school--her high school; she had worn them for track practice.

"You gonna just stand there letting the cold in?" Cathy asked, pulling Sara inside and closing the door.

Sara bent down so that her mother could kiss her on the cheek. Much to Sara's dismay, she had been a good foot taller than her mother since the fifth grade. While Tessa, Sara's younger sister, had inherited their mother's petite build, blond hair and effortless poise, Sara looked like a neighbor's child who had come for lunch one afternoon and decided to stay.

Cathy bent down to pick up some of the grocery bags, then seemed to think better of it. "Get these, will you?"

Sara scooped all eight bags into her hands, risking her fingers again. "What's wrong?" she asked, thinking her mother looked a little under the weather.

"Isabella," Cathy answered, and Sara suppressed a laugh. Her aunt Bella was the only person Sara knew who traveled with her own stock of liquor.

"Rum?"

Cathy whispered, "Tequila," the same way she might say "Cancer."

Sara cringed in sympathy. "Has she said how long she's staying?"

"Not yet," Cathy replied. Bella hated Grant County and had not visited since Tessa was born. Two days ago, she had shown up with three suitcases in the back of her convertible Mercedes and no explanations.

Normally, Bella would not have been able to get away with any sort of secrecy, but in keeping with the new "Don't ask, don't tell" ethos of the Linton family, no one had pressed her for an explanation. So much had changed since Tessa was attacked last year. They were all still shell-shocked, though no one seemed to want to talk about it. In a split second, Tessa's assailant had altered not just Tessa but the entire family. Sara often wondered if any of them would ever fully recover.

Sara asked, "Why was the door locked?"

"Must've been Tessa," Cathy said, and for just a moment her eyes watered.

"Mama-- "

"Go on in," Cathy interrupted, indicating the kitchen. "I'll be there in a minute."

Sara shifted the bags and walked down the hallway, glancing at the pictures that lined the walls. No one could go from the front door to the back without getting a pictorial view of the Linton girls' formative years. Tessa, of course, looked beautiful and slim in most of them. Sara was never so lucky. There was a particularly hideous photo of Sara in summer camp back in the eighth grade that she would have ripped off the wall if her mother let her get away with it. Sara stood in a boat wearing a bathing suit that looked like a piece of black construction paper pinned to her bony shoulders. Freckles had broken out along her nose, giving her skin a less than pleasing orange cast. Her red hair had dried in the sun and looked like a clown Afro.

"Darling!" Bella enthused, throwing her arms wide as Sara entered the kitchen. "Look at you!" she said, as if this was a compliment. Sara knew full well she wasn't at her best. She had rolled out of bed an hour ago and not even bothered to comb her hair. Being her father's daughter, the shirt she wore was the one she had slept in and her sweatpants from the track team in college were only slightly less vintage. Bella, by contrast, was wearing a silky blue dress that had probably cost a fortune. Diamond earrings sparkled in her ears, the many rings she wore on her fingers glinting in the sun streaming through the kitchen windows. As usual, her makeup and hair were perfect, and she looked gorgeous even at eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning.

Sara said, "I'm sorry I haven't been by earlier."

"Feh." Her aunt waved off the apology as she sat down. "Since when do you do your mama's shopping?"

"Since she's been stuck at home entertaining you for the last two days." Sara put the bags on the counter, rubbing her fingers to encourage the circulation to return.

"I'm not that hard to entertain," Bella said. "It's your mother who needs to get out more."

"With tequila?"

Bella smiled mischievously. "She never could hold her liquor. I'm convinced that's the only reason she married your father."

Sara laughed as she put the milk in the refrigerator. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw a plate piled high with chicken, ready for frying.

Bella provided, "We snapped some greens last night."

"Lovely," Sara mumbled, thinking this was the best news she had heard all week. Cathy's green bean casserole was the perfect companion to her fried chicken. "How was church?"

"A little too fire and brimstone for me," Bella confessed, taking an orange out of the bowl on the table. "Tell me about your life. Anything interesting happening?"

"Same old same old," Sara told her, sorting through the cans.

Bella peeled the orange, sounding disappointed when she said, "Well, sometimes routine can be comforting."

Sara made a "hm" sound as she put a can of soup on the shelf above the stove.

"Very comforting."

"Hm," Sara repeated, knowing exactly where this was going.

When Sara was in medical school at Emory University in Atlanta, she had briefly lived with her aunt Bella. The late-night parties, the drinking and the constant flow of men had finally caused a split. Sara had to get up at five in the morning to attend classes, not to mention the fact that she needed her nights quiet so that she could study. To her credit, Bella had tried to limit her social life, but in the end they had agreed it was best for Sara to get a place of her own. Things had been cordial until Bella had suggested Sara look into one of the units at the retirement home down on Clairmont Road.

Cathy came back into the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She moved the soup can Sara had shelved, pushing her out of the way in the process. "Did you get everything on the list?"
"Except the cooking sherry," Sara told her, sitting down opposite Bella. "Did you know you can't buy alcohol on Sunday?"

"Yes," Cathy said, making the word sound like an accusation. "That's why I told you to go to the store last night."

"I'm sorry," Sara apologized. She took a slice of orange from her aunt. "I was dealing with an insurance company out west until eight o'clock. It was the only time we could talk."

"You're a doctor," Bella stated the obvious. "Why on earth do you have to talk to insurance companies?"

"Because they don't want to pay for the tests I order."

"Isn't that their job?"

Sara shrugged. She had finally broken down and hired a woman full-time to jump through the various hoops the insurance companies demanded, but still, two to three hours of every day Sara spent at the children's clinic were wasted filling out tedious forms or talking to, sometimes yelling at, company supervisors on the phone. She had started going in an hour earlier to try to keep on top of it, but nothing seemed to make a dent.

"Ridiculous," Bella murmured around a slice of orange. She was well into her sixties, but as far as Sara knew, she had never been sick a day in her life. Perhaps there was something to be said for chain-smoking and drinking tequila until dawn after all.

Cathy rummaged through the bags, asking, "Did you get sage?"

"I think so." Sara stood to help her find it but Cathy shooed her away. "Where's Tess?"

"Church," Cathy answered. Sara knew better than to question her mother's disapproving tone. Obviously, Bella knew better, too, though she raised an eyebrow at Sara as she handed her another slice of orange. Tessa had passed on attending the Primitive Baptist, where Cathy had gone since she and Bella were children, choosing instead to visit a smaller church in a neighboring county for her spiritual needs. Under normal circumstances Cathy would have been glad to know at least one of her daughters wasn't a godless heathen, but there was obviously something that bothered her about Tessa's choice. As with so many things lately, no one pushed the issue.

Cathy opened the refrigerator, moving the milk to the other side of the shelf as she asked, "What time did you get home last night?"

"Around nine," Sara said, peeling another orange.

"Don't spoil lunch," Cathy admonished. "Did Jeffrey get everything moved in?"

"Almo-- " Sara caught herself at the last minute, her face blushing crimson. She swallowed a few times before she could speak. "When did you hear?"

"Oh, honey," Bella chuckled. "You're living in the wrong town if you want people to stay out of your business. That's the main reason I went abroad as soon as I could afford the ticket."

"More like find a man to pay for it," Cathy wryly added.

Sara cleared her throat again, feeling like her tongue had swollen to twice its size. "Does Daddy know?"

Cathy raised an eyebrow much as her sister had done a few moments ago. "What do you think?"

Sara took a deep breath and hissed it out between her teeth. Suddenly, her father's earlier pronouncement about dirt sticking made sense. "Is he mad?"

"A little mad," Cathy allowed. "Mostly disappointed."

Bella tsked her tongue against her teeth. "Small towns, small minds."

"It's not the town," Cathy defended. "It's Eddie."

Bella sat back as if preparing to tell a story. "I lived in sin with a boy. I was barely out of college, just moved to London. He was a welder, but his hands . . . oh, he had the hands of an artist. Did I ever tell you-- "

"Yes, Bella," Cathy said in a bored singsong. Bella had always been ahead of her time, from being a beatnik to a hippie to a vegan. To her constant dismay, she had never been able to scandalize her family. Sara was convinced one of the reasons her aunt had left the country was so she could tell people she was a black sheep. No one bought it in Grant. Granny Earnshaw, who worked for women's suffrage, had been proud of her daughter's brazen attitude and Big Daddy had called Bella his "little firecracker" to anyone who would listen. As a matter of fact, the only time Bella had ever managed to shock any of them was when she had announced she was getting married to a stockbroker named Colt and moving to the suburbs. Thankfully, that had lasted only a year.

Sara could feel the heat of her mother's stare bore into her like a laser. She finally relented, asking, "What?"

"I don't know why you won't just marry him."

Sara twisted the ring around her finger. Jeffrey had been a football player at Auburn University and she had taken to wearing his class ring like a lovesick girl.

Bella pointed out the obvious, as if it was some sort of enticement. "Your father can't stand him."

Cathy crossed her arms over her chest. She repeated her question to Sara. "Why?" She waited a beat. "Why not just marry him? He wants to, doesn't he?"

"Yes."

"Then why not say yes and get it over with?"

"It's complicated," Sara answered, hoping she could leave it at that. Both women knew her history with Jeffrey, from the moment she fell in love with him to their marriage to the night Sara had come home early from work to find him in bed with another woman. She had filed for divorce the next day, but for some reason, Sara was unable to let him go.

In her defense, Jeffrey had changed over the last few years. He had grown into the man she had seen the promise of almost fifteen years ago. The love she had for him was new, in its way more exciting than the first time. Sara didn't feel that giddy, I'm-going-to-die-if-he-doesn't-call-me sort of obsession she had experienced before. She felt comfortable with him. She knew at the end of the day that he would be there for her. She also knew after five years of living on her own that she was miserable without him.

"You're too proud," Cathy said. "If it's your ego-- "

"It's not my ego," Sara interrupted, not knowing how to explain herself and more than a little resentful that she felt compelled to. It was just her luck that her relationship with Jeffrey seemed to be the only thing her mother felt comfortable talking about.

Sara went to the sink to wash the orange off her hands. Trying to change the subject, she asked Bella, "How was France?"

"French," Bella answered, but didn't give in that easily. "Do you trust him?"

"Yes," she said, "more than the first time, which is why I don't need a piece of paper telling me how I feel."

Bella was more than a little smug when she said, "I knew you two would get back together." She pointed a finger at Sara. "If you were serious about getting him out of your life the first time, you would've quit your coroner job."

"It's just part-time," Sara said, though she knew Bella had a point. Jeffrey was chief of police for Grant County. Sara was the medical examiner. Every suspicious death in the tri-city area had brought him back into her life.

Cathy returned to the last grocery bag, taking out a liter of Coke. "When were you going to tell us?"
Karin Slaughter|Author Q&A

About Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter - Faithless

Photo © Alison Rosa

Karin Slaughter is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of fourteen thrillers, including Cop Town, Unseen, Criminal, Fallen, Broken, Undone, Fractured, Beyond Reach, Triptych, Faithless, and the e-original novellas “Snatched” and “Busted.” She is a native of Georgia.

Author Q&A

1. Faithless is noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which is ongoing rehabilitation of the relationship between Sara Linton and JeffreyTolliver. When you were first developing your series, had you planned on them eventually taking some tentative steps toward reconciliation?

I always knew they would reconcile, so it's a bit shocking when folks ask if it will ever happen.  To me, the interesting part is seeing how they're going to work now as a couple.  In the opening of the next Grant County book, they're living together.  This is when the really hard stuff starts happening.

2. Faithless, the fifth and latest of your Grant County series, deals with a number of controversial topics, including fundamentalist religion, abortion, and domestic abuse. We were extremely impressed with the evenhandedness with which you approached these topics and the manner in which your primary characters approached these issues. What was the impetus behind constructing the plot of Faithless around these topics?


Crime fiction has always been at the forefront of social issues, whether it's To Kill a Mockingbird or The Lovely Bones.  The challenge for me was to not paint these issues in black and white. It would be very easy to say, “Religion is good!”  or, “Religion is bad!” but that's never how it is in real life.  You've got nuts and extremists everywhere, and then you've got the average folks in between.  Those are the people I'm interested in—the average folks and what compels them.  I want to know about the gray.

3. One of the more subtle but very interesting elements of Faithless are the budgetary problems which Jeffery Tolliver deals with while attempting to enforce the law in Grant County. While the CSI labs and their county counterparts on television seem to have a blank check to purchase equipment, Tolliver's problems appear to be more consistent with the real world, wherein he has to rely more upon dogged, solid police work than technological wonders. What made you choose to highlight this in Faithless?

Money has always been an issue in law enforcement because as a society, we seem much more invested in punishment than in prevention.  That being said, I find it more interesting as a reader when an actual person solves a crime as opposed to a computer. I like to know what the characters are thinking so when they puzzle it out, it makes sense.

4. Lena is another Grant County character we enjoy reading about. One gets the sense that personally and professionally she needs a lot of work, yet she has the potential for improvement. Do you have any plans or intent to feature her more prominently in a future work?

Lena always gets more “page time” than I think she will.  She's a very volatile character, very polarizing at times, and she always keeps me guessing.  In Skin Privilege, the next Grant County book, she goes back to Reese with her uncle Hank and we get to see her in a very different way.  She has evolved so much since Blindsighted, and I like the fact that she's not perfect.  Sometimes you root for her and sometimes you want to slap her upside the head.  That's fun for me.

5. We love the subplots
and the continuation of plots from previous booksinvolving the characters in Faithless, such as Jeffrey's health scare and Lena's personal life. When you begin a new novel do you already have an idea of what you will continue from previous books, or do these stories unfold as you write?

Generally, I plan the character relationships out three books at a time.  It's important for me to know where they're going, especially Lena. There have been some clues in the earlier books that will reward people who've been reading from the beginning.  I'm very careful with each book to make sure it stands alone as well, because I want folks to be able to pick up any of the books and get a complete story without having to know what came before.  I actually think Faithless is a good one to start with.

6. You have said that you believe secondary characters "add to the fabric of the story." We agree! To date, which of your secondary characters is your personal favorite, and why?

I've got a soft spot for Bill Brock, who runs the funeral home.  He's very goofy and he lives with his mama and he has a crush on Sara, yet he seems to still have a very happy outlook on life.  Also, old man Burgess at the cleaners is named after a friend of mine and I have great fun giving him new age-related ailments with each story.

7. You have mentioned in interviews and on your website the importance of being realistic without moving into sensationalism when there is violence in your novels. How difficult is it to achieve this balance?

The balance is getting easier as I write more books.  I really do think this ability is like a muscle that you can train and make stronger.  I have the luxury of Sara guiding the moral compass, because she's an incredibly compassionate and honest person.  I want to honor that, and I want to be responsible to myself and what I set out to do in the series, which is to use the violence as a springboard to talk about issues that are important to women: child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, etc.

8. You have had a great deal of international success with your Grant County series (congratulations on being #1 in London and Ireland!), even though it is set in a rural southern area as opposed to a more panoramic, cosmopolitan backdrop. What elements of your Grant County novels do you feel have the most appeal to the world audience?

Something I've found as I've toured throughout Europe is that small-town life is universal.  You'll find the same cast of characters (the busybody, the town slut, the bad seeds) everywhere, whether it's in Holland, Germany, France or good old Grant County, Georgia.  I'd also like to add that the world has been fascinated with the American south for a long time.  There is a reason that Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone With the Wind are two of the most translated books in the world.

9. You have stated that you need to know the title of your work-in-progress before you can begin actually writing the book. How long does it take for you to think of a title? Have you ever had a title change after the book was acquired, either by your choice or the publisher's choice?

I've never had a title change, which is good, because the title does define the story for me and I feel very close to it from a creative standpoint.  I tend to think of one-word titles that help convey the purpose of the book.  Kisscut is a good example, because it really plays out in the story.  Usually, I'll think of scene to open the book, then the title will come, then a week later, I'm at the computer working on it.  I consider the title a fulcrum that helps pry the story from my brain.

10. You began writing stories as a child. Do you recall what types of stories you wrote and read at that age? Did you see writing as a hobby, or did you know this was the work you wanted to do at that age? What advice do you have for our readers who may have children/younger family members who are aspiring writers?


I never thought I'd be able to make a living from writing, so this has truly been a gift to me.  The best advice I can give anyone who wants to write is that they need to read as much and as often as they can—and not just the genre in which they wish to write.  When I was a kid, I read everything, from Encyclopedia Brown to V.C. Andrews to John Jakes to…well, anything they'd let me check out of the library.

11. Your next planned novel, Triptych, is a stand-alone work, but we understand that you then plan to return to Grant County. Do you have several future Grant County novels already outlined, or do you wait until you are actually ready to begin a new work before you plot it out?

I mentioned Skin Privilege earlier—that's what I'll start in January of next year.  After that come Genesis, then a novel I've tentatively titled Broken.  There might be one in between those—it just depends on which story interests me the most.  The fun thing about Triptych is you'll see someone from Grant County in that story, and you'll also see someone from Triptych join Sara and the gang.

12. Are you willing to share a little bit about Triptych (a June 2006 release)?


I can't say much because it's a very twisty-turny sort of story and I would hate to give away too much.  I can talk about the setting, which is very urban and gritty-Atlanta, my home town.  The characters are a bit rougher in some ways, but I think that makes them interesting.  I wanted to make sure I didn't rip off anyone from Grant County (I hate when you read a stand-alone and it's really the series characters with new names and better haircuts) so you'll find that the people you meet in Triptych are very different from anyone you've seen me write about before.

Praise

Praise

"Georgia medical examiner Sara Linton returns in Slaughter's Grant County crime thriller series, and this time she's hot on the trail of a demented killer who buries teenage girls alive.... Slaughter's fifth Grant County case offers tough love, suspenseful spadework and life-affirming vigor."—Publishers Weekly

"Faithless, Karin Slaughter's fifth novel, confirms her at the summit of the school of writers specialising in forensic medicine and terror, a field which includes Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs.... Slaughter’s characters talk in believable dialogue, She’s excellent at portraying the undertones and claustrophobia of communities where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and even better at creating an atmosphere of lurking evil."—The Times (London)

"[Karin Slaughter is] one of the best crime novelists in America.... Her novels smolder with reality."—Washington Post

"The pleasure of Slaughter's Grant County series—this is the fifth installment—rests in how the characters deal simultaneously with their messy personal lives and some fairly horrific crimes."—San Francisco Chronicle

“Slaughter has jumped to the front of the line of first-rate thriller writers.”—Rocky Mountain News

“Impossible to put down.” –Orlando Sentinel

“A new synonym for terror.” –Detroit Free Press
Karin Slaughter

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Karin Slaughter - Faithless

Photo © Alison Rosa

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  • Faithless by Karin Slaughter
  • July 25, 2006
  • Fiction - Suspense; Fiction
  • Dell
  • $7.99
  • 9780440242918

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