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TripTych    by Karin Slaughter order for
by Karin Slaughter
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Delacorte, 2006 (2006)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Karin Slaughter, author of a gory series of Grant County, Georgia chillers, excels in portraying damaged - abused and usually anguished - protagonists. In TripTych, she presents several to readers, with a deliberate ambiguity as to which (including law enforcement officers and a convicted criminal) are the good guys as opposed to the bad guys.

The story is set in Atlanta, 'one of the most violent cities in America.' Circling around each other and a bunch of serial killings (in which girls and women are raped and mutilated) are three cops and one convicted pedophile/murderer. The first we meet is Detective Michael Ormewood, a Gulf War veteran married to a nurse, and the father of eight-year-old Tim, whose mind will always remain that of a child. Ormewood is called out to the scene of the murder of a hooker, Aleesha Monroe, and returns home to have a fling with his neighbor, Cynthia. His day doesn't improve when he finds himself partnered with Special Agent Will Trent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Special Criminal Apprehension Team. Trent brings with him a file of similar cases to Aleesha's, including teenage victims. The two cops rub each other the wrong way.

The third cop is Detective Angie Polaski, who spends her days dressed as a hooker, working Vice. She used to work with Ormewood, having had a brief relationship with him, and has been a friend of Trent's since childhood, helping him with his dyslexia - he works hard to hide his difficulty with reading. Both Angie and Will had very tough childhoods, in and out of orphanages and foster homes, suffering both physical and sexual abuse. On the other side of the law, John Shelley has just been released from jail. He served twenty agonizing years after he was convicted at the age of fifteen of the rape and murder of a childhood friend and fellow student. Mary Alice's mutilation matches what was done to the victims of the current killer. Seems obvious who's the perpetrator, doesn't it? But it's not that simple, as the title hints - Wikipedia tells us that a triptych is 'a work of art which is divided into three sections ... The whole is intended to be greater than the sum of the parts.'

Shelley works at the only job he can get with his record, at a car wash. He lives in a flophouse with other released pedophiles, and his parole officer shows up regularly for surprise inspections. Shelley starts to wonder what's happening when he attempts to rent a small television and discovers that he has a top rate credit record. Someone has been using his identity, but why? After his years in prison, paranoia comes naturally to Shelley and he suspects he's being set up, so he investigates as best he can, in between encounters with a pretty whore named Robin. Though his mother went to her death believing in his innocence, Shelley's lawyer sister Joyce hates what he did to their family and distrusts him, but he seeks her help anyway and eventually wins it. Along the way, Shelley does something that would send him straight back to jail if discovered. Gradually the main characters start to find out more about each other, Shelley's freedom looks like it will be short-lived, and another teenager disappears, resulting in a race against time and a violent crescendo of an ending.

Though I've enjoyed all of Karin Slaughter's previous books, she's moved into another league with TripTych, her best - and most surprising - yet. As always, she's tough on her characters, and creates reader sympathy for all of them, as she masterfully develops an intricate plot with a highly satisfying ending. This author has just moved higher on my must read list.

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